The Reading List: February’s Top Book Reviews
Find out which products our book-review guru thinks you’ll love this month.
1. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
Long before Wicked became a smash Broadway hit Gregory Maguire had his way with another misunderstood villain. A take on the Cinderella story, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a quieter book than Maguire’s Wizard of Oz-inspired work, but just as clever-it picks apart the moral trappings associated with beauty and moves the action to tulip-crazed 17th-century Holland.
2. Half-Blood Blues
Victoria writer Esi Edugyan snagged the 2011 Giller for her stylish second novel, Half-Blood Blues. A blistering snapshot of racial tension in pre-war Germany, it’s told from the viewpoint of a pair of black jazz musicians. The subject matter is heavy, but Edugyan presents it with panache, texturing her social commentary with a sultry, old-fashioned bent.
3. Ada or Ardor
Vladimir Nabokov had a thing for taboos. In Lolita, it’s pedophilia; in Ada or Ardor, it’s incest. But Nabokov clears his hurdle easily, crafting an engrossing family epic (with a touch of dystopia thrown in) that overcomes its touchy subject matter with dazzling wordplay, sublime prose and a gripping story.
4. The Stranger’s Child
The Stranger’s Child, Alan Hollinghurst’s latest, plays down the sex and ramps up the temporal dissonance. As its main character attempts to dig up information on a forgotten First World War poet, the book jumps back and forth over 80 years. The time lapses are jarring yet playful, allowing for stylistic riffs and inviting the reader to fill in the gaps.
5. The Puppy Diaries
With her pin-straight bob and steely stare, New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson is the last person you’d expect to write a touchy-feely pet memoir. Which is why she hasn’t. The Puppy Diaries, covering the first year in the life of Abramson’s golden retriever, is warm and compassionate, but also brims with biting wit.
6. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Haruki Murakami’s most recent novel, 1Q84, looks like a cinder block and is just as dense. If you want to dip your toes in the Japanese writer’s pool without diving into the deep end, try Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. The Blade Runner-esque sci-fi caper about double consciousness and a farcical quest for unicorn skulls is a treat.
7. The Ice Balloon
Alec Wilkinson’s riveting 2010 New Yorker piece, The Ice Balloon, gets a welcome book-length treatment. A tale of outsized audacity and bitter disappointment, it tracks Victorian Don Quixote S.A. Andrée, a Swedish explorer whose mission to fly to the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon is foiled by bad luck and science.
8. The Night Circus
Two veteran illusionists pit their young proteges against each other in The Night Circus, forcing them to do battle at the titular travelling show. That the pair fall in love is utterly predictable; the real surprise here is writer Erin Morgenstern’s eye for setting: She has created a spectacular dreamlike circus, complete with ice gardens and cloud mazes.
9. The Antagonist
With The Antagonist, Lynn Coady has updated the epistolary novel for the digital age. Her bristling, hilarious book follows Rank, a burly hockey enforcer who goes on an email rampage after discovering that his old pal has appropriated his life for a new novel. Hell hath no fury like a puck-head scorned.