Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Leaving Orbit: Notes From the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Lazarus Dean




That spaceflight sendoff on the cover is now a thing of the past as the American space program has been slowly dismantled and is now a shadow of its former glory days. As she asks the question: “What does it mean that we won’t be going into space anymore,” space junkie Margaret Lazarus Dean counts down the last days of the shuttle program and describes them with bittersweet emotions. The somewhat narrow perspective, limited to fellow enthusiasts at Cape Canaveral, leaves you wanting more at times, yet Dean’s enthusiasm — mixed in with equal part outrage — ultimately shines through.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

This Is How It Really Sounds by Stuart Archer Cohen




What if you had a chance to rewrite your life? What would you choose to keep, to throw out? The path not taken is a theme often explored in fiction but Stuart Archer Cohen gives it a spanking new update for our times through the lives of three men, all named Pete Harrington. If sometimes the moral of the story comes across as too pat, Cohen makes it up by layering the plot with plenty of high-voltage action and atmosphere. Despite an occasional discordant note, readers will enjoy unlocking the interlocking chambers of this Chinese puzzle box of a novel.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora



The conforming doll-house characters face dark veins of humor as debut author Lauren Acampora illustrates how vanilla suburbs stamp out individuality in favor of homogeneity in her nuanced collection of stories. Even as a few characters try to wrestle out of the upper middle class’s suffocating chokehold, stagnation is a way of life inside the carefully trimmed hedges and white picket fences. Sneak peeks at paranoid and controlling characters trying to hold on to a different way of life reveal the menace that lurks just beneath the surface of middle-class respectability. A searing indictment of the Great American suburban experiment.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Rain: A Natural And Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett




Even if you’re the kind who can’t take soggy weather, you’ll love Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. A whole host of intriguing topics — rainmakers, the earthy perfume of rain, the mechanics of rain — and more are captured under that cheerful brolly. Environmental journalist Cynthia Barnett travels the world over (from the wettest place in the world, Cheerapunji, in India, to an umbrella store in London) to deliver stories dripping with personality. Her enthusiasm for her subject translates brilliantly on to the page. For lovers of social science, the perfect shelter to dive into on a rainy day.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James



“The Gravedigger,” a majestic Indian elephant, looms large in this devastating novel set in south India. By granting anthropomorphic qualities to the tusker, James dives headlong into the problem of poaching, exploring all angles  — animal, man, violator, protector and even a neutral third-party, a film crew of two. With an impressive economy of words and a searching exploration of the costs of doing the right thing, James delivers a nuanced view of one of humanity’s most pressing environmental problems. The African elephant on the cover (instead of an Asian one) is the only misstep in this otherwise brilliant novel.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein



Yasha and Frances are young adults from Brooklyn each bruised in a specific way, trying to find peace in the northern reaches of Norway, the land of the midnight sun. Frances ties herself to an art project in Lofoten, miles north of the Arctic circle, while family obligations deliver Yasha there. The novel’s quirky tone and offbeat characters belie its weighty message — about finding kindness in unlikely places and learning the art of making peace with one’s past. There’s no escaping it, sure, but you don’t have to get smothered under its weight either. A wise and promising debut.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Ngyuen




“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces,” explains the unreliable narrator of this intense and piercing debut about the aftermath of the Vietnam war. Above all, the protagonist is haunted by ghosts, his mixed Eurasian heritage forever marking him as an outsider both to the Vietnamese and the Americans. The Sympathizer brilliantly tracks the machinations of the shattered freedom movement as members try to remake their country anew. It’s an arresting and mesmerizing tale, written in gorgeous language, that lends a fresh perspective to one of the defining wars of the twentieth century.