I imagine the musical soundtrack of Tomb Song to be comprised of jazz. Full of energy and chaos, emotional highs and lows, and wild unpredictability, this is a coming-of-age "novel" like you've never read before. Respect must go to Christina MacSweeney (award winning translator of Valeria Luiselli) for translating a seemingly irreproducible piece of writing into English. I look forward to reading more Julian Herbert!
Over the course of reading Disappointment River, I found myself frequently looking up canoe and kayak prices at my local outdoor sporting store, the same way I was actually looking up trips to Alaska while reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. While I'm not a rower, I found myself hearing the call of the Mackenzie River in this dual narrative that simultaneously transports the reader back to the late-1700s to tell the story of the early American fur trade and the significance of the Northwest Passage while also serving as a contemporary travelogue of author Brian Castner, as he retraces explorer Alexander Mackenzie's journey himself in a completely changed landscape over 200 years later. Castner, a former explosive ordnance officer in Iraq, is known as the author of two books detailing experiences in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has written a new type of adventure with the same level of command and authority on the subject.
This is a beautiful story about an unlikely friendship between a Taiwanese-American college graduate from the Midwest and a young African-American student dropout from the Mississippi Delta who is convicted of murder. Michelle Kuo details her time with Teach For America in the deep south and her relationship with her prized student with careful observations making this book a poignant study of race, class, justice, and education.
This should be required reading for all teachers!
A difficult book to review because of the brevity of each rather somber story, but this is a beautiful collection of quiet, but touching tales linked by the theme of war and displacement. It takes a special writer to create such atmospheric prose. Read this collection slowly on a rainy day.
This was a delightful read full of hard-hitting sports journalism that asks questions like: "Was Kobe Bryant a dork?" and answers questions like "Where would The Office's Jim Halpert get drafted in the Fictional Player Draft?" (spoiler: 1st Round 26th pick). This is truly a fun book for even the most casual sports fan that is desperately needed in this new age where boring sabermetric stats and over-analytics are beginning to ruin sports.
A young Swedish boy comes to the U.S. in the 1840s only to be immediately separated from his older brother. While becoming a man, he travels alone across the lawless American west, reputation growing as an outlaw legend known only as "The Hawk." Part coming-of-age tale, part survivalist story, you have never read a western frontier novel like this. Truly one of the best books of the year.
A devastating read about the short tragic life of collegiate sprinter Madison Holleran, a 19-year-old girl who seemingly had everything in life before her abrupt suicide. Fagan blends her own story as a depressed college athlete looking for answers to tell this heartbreaking story. This is an important read to understand the growing pressures of young people today as they hide behind emojis and happy instagram pictures without ever revealing who they really are.
It's Annie meets Lord of the Flies in this haunting story of a young orphan girl who becomes alienated from the other girls in her foster home. While it is a quick read, it is terrifyingly memorable and beautifully translated, and every sentence is truly worth the price.
A fascinating exploration of the many cutting-edge techniques and technologies that are making our top athletes (Steph Curry, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, and many others make cameo appearances throughout the book) even stronger, faster, and better. Not just for athletes, this book is a great introduction for anyone looking to improve their mind and focus using the absolute newest methods out. Chapters highlight advancements in wearable technology, new apps that connect to your brain, sensory-deprivation chambers, and even wild ayahuasca trips.
Read chapter 1 to get inside the brain of Russell Wilson during the high pressure '15 NFC Championship game when the Seahawks were down 19-7 late in the fourth quarter and still WON THE GAME!
This illustrated memoir tells the story of a family that is forced to flee their home country in the midst of the Vietnam War. Debut author Thi Bui intimately shares her unique point-of-view as a 2nd-generation Vietnamese-American in simple but beautiful illustrations. This is simply a must-read to better understand the perspective of refugees and the many obstacles they face.
Multi-generational sagas don't get better than this beautiful story of one poor Korean family that moves to Japan. Spanning the years 1910 to 1989, this book describes the immigrant's experience in a way that is completely relevant today. Min Jin Lee has found the perfect image, the pachinko board, to represent the uncertainties in life. I haven't read a novel with such emotion since Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance.
Many of these collected stories detail sexual trauma, a subject Roxane Gay has personally discussed in the past. Needless to say, this collection makes for an uncomfortable read. Each story additionally explores themes of motherhood, gender, class, and race all while detailing intricate, difficult women. Roxane Gay is an incredible writer for being able to pack such an emotional punch in each of these short stories. This is a deeply powerful collection of short fiction at its very best.
I’ve always found the endurance sports to be underrated, but after reading this book, I’m more convinced than ever that long-distant runners are superhuman and that the major marathons should be televised events that everyone should watch. The early review of this book as “Hoop Dreams for runners” is as good as anything I can say about it. I’m just amazed that within our lifetime, we are going to see a human being run 26.2 miles in under two hours!
So many writers (Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and others) have written about Muhammad Ali, yet Miller might just be the greatest at writing about the iconic boxer. Told over several decades of Ali's post-boxing career, this book truly captures what an incredible individual Ali was, going much further than being a great athlete, Ali is a fascinating human.
Sherman Alexie said that this was one of the greatest sports novels ever written and I would have to agree. This is a great story of basketball and friendship in the run down streets of San Francisco.
This is technically a novel in letters that tells the story of a broken heart but it really serves as the author's actual suicide letter. Needless to say, this is a difficult read knowing that the author was revealing a lot about her own personal struggles before her tragic suicide at the age of 26. An unforgettable reading experience.
I've spent a little time in the world of competitive athletics and I must say, this novel depicts "race day" better than I've ever seen. The first page is the cyclist getting his bike ready for the race and the last page is the cyclist leaving to go home, the pages in between are full of pure adrenaline.
I only discovered Adrian Tomine recently and have been reading everything he has ever published with a vengeance. His latest collection shows his maturation as both an illustrator and a master of short fiction (the comparisons to Raymond Carver are quite accurate). Still only in his early 40s, Tomine will be making great graphic stories for a long time!
Asian-American characters have never been more multi-faceted than they are in this novel that defies racial stereotypes while giving us a glimpse of the struggles of being a starving artist. Our central character gets hit by a car and dies on the second page. It is impossible to stop reading from there as we rewind several years back.
Alfred Hayes was known primarily as a screenwriter but this fantastic short novel proves that he was just as great writing fiction as he was for writing for film. This is absolutely the perfect novel about Hollywood - involving a mysterious aspiring actress and a cynical writer who hates Los Angeles.
This brilliant work of metafiction has everything! Unreliable narrators, exotic world locations, sex, drugs, murder, family secrets, and a bunch of philosophy!?! Fans of Italo Calvino will love this book (just read the first two pages to get hooked). This hidden Australian classic was an absolutely great reading experience for me and I look to reread this someday.
Castner, a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer who served three tours of duty in Iraq, has written a book that brings readers backstage, intimately unveiling modern warfare in a way that is completely fresh. By asking the question "Who is the man who killed my friend?" Castner becomes a detective searching for the man who built the bomb that killed his EOD-brother.
Harden masterfully tells the story of good versus evil in this dual biography of two very different North Korean men. Told primarily in the time of the Korean War, this book gives us proper context as to why North Korea is so out of touch in today's world. This is an important story (just like Harden's previous "Escape From Camp 14") that shows the complexities of living under the brutal North Korean dictatorship.
The central character of this book has an unsettling dream, wakes up and becomes a strict vegetarian. Things rapidly spiral out of control and soon the reader begings to feel as if this very book is a dream itself. This is a very strange, dark book that is depressing, yet very memorable and beautiful.
This is what absurdist social commentary is all about! Beatty tackles the always hot-button issue of race beautifully in this satirical masterpiece of a black urban farmer who attempts to resegregate his hometown. This is as funny as it is deeply thought-provoking. One of the best, most entertaining novels I've read in awhile.
Novelist Ruth Ozeki stares into a mirror for 3 hours - not exactly an exciting premise, yet somehow, she makes this experiment absolutely riveting. By studying the lines on her face in moment-to-moment detail, Ozeki reflects upon her upbringing and her life today as a bestselling author, revealing more about her true self in this short book than in any of her novels.
This is a fascinating exploration of Lahiri's love of language. No, not the English language (the one that made her the youngest Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner in 2000), but the Italian langauge that she learned as an adult. Written 100% in Italian (then translated into English by Ann Goldstein), this is a deeply introspective book that is Lahiri's most revealing and intimate. A must for Lahiri lovers and linguaphiles!
Packing an emotional punch on the level of Spiegleman's Maus, this graphic novel explores grief and hope after a little girl's sudden death. Tom Hart gives us an incredibly raw look at his experience dealing with an unimaginable circumstance. Deeply powerful read.
Instead of going off to college, Katherine Carlyle throws her cellphone in a river and disappears. Her journey in search of her true self takes her across Europe into the Arctic Circle. Never predictable, Katherine is a deeply unique character. Thomson's writing is full of emotion and intrigue. One of my favorite new release novels of the year.
Eilis Lacey is one of the greatest young adult female characters I've read. Taking place in 1950's Ireland and Brooklyn, this coming of age tale quietly sneaks up to you leaving an unforgettable mark. This is one of the great novels about American immigration.
Read the book first ...then go see the movie!
This was my first experience reading a Franzen novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it, ripping through this fast-paced 600 page novel. Reading this book sooner than later is a must due to its topical placement in the world of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden-type figures in current global politics. It's not hard to keep track of the slew of characters as each one of them is written so memorably.
A young Seattle hipster moves cross-country for grad school while his best friend goes to fight in the Iraq War. The generation-y apathy is perfectly captured in this fantastic coming of age/war story from a pair of first-time writers. Our two protagonists become more complex with every page as they battle with both Boston's intellectual pretentiousness and Baghdad militants.
This hilarious collection of stories proves that "millennials" really are just spoiled little brats! The gem in this collection is the novelette-length "Sell Out" which features a time travelling 1914 Ellis Island immigrant in competition with his 2014 Brooklyn-hipster great-great grandson. Truly LOL!
Partially a meditation on addiction and partially an astronomy lesson (*also partially a road trip novel, of sorts), this stream of consciousness novel is an absolute gut punch of a read. Tackling heavy subjects like anorexia/bulimia, alcoholism, obsession with celebrity, big-agriculture/big-pharma. An excellent debut novel.
This is more a biography of an entire group of people rather than an individual. Tizon writes about growing up as a Filipino-American, yet it is a highly recognizable tale other Asian-Americans (like myself) can fully relate to. This bio becomes more of an investigative study on the concept of masculinity and a criticism about an overlooked aspect of American culture.
An Indian man who has never before left his tiny village travels to a Parisian Ikea. Hilarity ensues. This is an absurd comedy-adventure but features enough heart and sincerity to make one a little teary-eyed. Already a #1 bestselling hit in France, this book is sure to make anyone smile - I mean just look at the crazy title!
Told by people who were actually part of the NYC art scene and knew Basquiat. This book captures the raw energy of the 1980s counterculture. Written by an accomplished Mexican-American poet, the story blends prose. poems, and transcriptions in telling the often heart-breaking love story of TWO larger than life artists. Understanding Basquiat's work is not necessary to enjoy this quick read.
Walter's collection of stories brings the small-town Northwest region to life with an array of down on their luck characters (hobos, gamblers, thieves, etc.). The opening story, my favorite, "Anything Helps," is about a homeless panhandler who wants to buy the new Harry Potter book. Funny but sad yet frighteningly realistic.
Knowing as little as possible about this book makes for the optimal reading experience. Let's just say there is a mysterious boarding school for young and talented British children... No, it has nothing to do with wizards or Harry Potter, but this book is chillingly magical and a great example of perfect narrative flow.
A truly one of a kind story of the only known person to escape a North Korean prison camp. Shin Dong-hyuk was born in the prison and had no idea of what life was like on the outside. This devastating story is what led to my own involvement with the "Liberty in North Korea" (LiNK) advocacy group for North Korean refugees.
Brian Castner is courageous for serving three tours of duty in the Middle East with the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit. Yet, he is even more courageous for sharing his true story and allowing readers to get deep inside the mind of a soldier fighting a physical war in Iraq and an emotional war with himself upon returning home.