All Reviews

There’s wit, honesty and insight in Madly, Deeply (19.5 hours), a collection of Alan Rickman’s succinct yet keenly observant diary entries spanning 1993 to 2015. The late actor’s journals reveal a palpable lack of pretentiousness and a go-with-the-flow attitude (even after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer), as well as a compelling contrast between his two worlds: his celebrity life in theater and film, and his private day-to-day existence. 

Voice actor Steven Crossley does a fabulous job of capturing Rickman’s delivery and pacing while recounting Rickman’s candid remarks about co-stars, warm gatherings with friends and his love for Rima Horton, his childhood sweetheart and wife. Bonnie Wright (who played Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films) narrates the stirring foreword by Emma Thompson, bringing out Thompson’s admiration and fond memories of her dear friend. Equally affecting is the afterword, written and narrated by Horton, in which she reveals how even in his last weeks, Rickman lived life with poignancy and celebration. 

Profound and heart-rending, this is an inspiring listen for fans of Alan Rickman.

Profound and heart-rending, this is an inspiring listen for fans of Alan Rickman.
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For My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings (7 hours), actor Zosia Mamet (“Girls,” “The Flight Attendant”) has gathered a who’s-who of creative folks, including fellow actors like Busy Philipps, musicians like Patti Smith, writers like David Sedaris and chefs like Kwame Onwuachi. Each contributed an essay about food or a food-related memory, and the collection of nearly 50 essays offers a veritable smorgasbord of cuisines and emotional resonance. Some essays are funny and sweet, while others engage with more serious subjects, such as depression or disordered eating. Because the essays are short (most run well under 10 minutes), listening to the collection feels like browsing a gourmet buffet. Many contributors read their own works; others are read by notable audiobook narrators or actors, including Mamet herself. The audiobook comes with a PDF of recipes associated with each essay. 

If you’re the kind of person who likes to pop on an audiobook or podcast while you’re cooking, My First Popsicle might be just the thing for dinner tonight. 

If you're the kind of person who likes to pop on an audiobook or podcast while you're cooking, My First Popsicle might be just the thing for dinner tonight.
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For their entire lives, Penny and Tate have orbited each other reluctantly. Since before Penny and Tate were born, their moms, Lottie and Anna, have been attached at the hip, and this permanent package deal means constant, unwanted proximity for the two daughters. See, Penny and Tate are not friends. They’re also not not friends. They just . . . can’t seem to stop almost kissing at extremely inopportune moments. 

But Tate lives with the ever-present threat that her mom’s illness, a genetic condition that impacts Anna’s lungs and liver, will spiral out of control, while Penny lives in the aftermath of a horrific rafting accident that took her father’s life. Penny’s mom, Lottie, has been distant and cold in the two years since the accident, and Penny tries to tiptoe around her while working through her own grief and guilt.

So when Lottie decides to become a living liver donor for Anna and combine their two households to save money while they recover, it’s a shock to the fragile ecosystem that Penny has so carefully constructed. There’s no way she and Tate can survive an entire summer in the same house without exploding, so they decide to call a truce. Its terms include no fighting, no snitching, equitable division of labor and no stressing out their moms. Unfortunately for Penny and Tate, some things between them just can’t stay buried forever, truce or not.

6 Times We Almost Kissed (and One Time We Did) may sound like the title of a sweet, comedy-of-errors rom-com, but Tess Sharpe’s novel is not so fluffy. Although inspired by the “five things” fan-fiction story concept, the book playfully subverts reader expectations by being about much more than six near kisses. Penny and Tate’s story is rich with the complexity of friendship and family and the messiness of grief. Their relationship leans heavily into a number of classic rom-com tropes, including “only one bed,” roommates and height differences. Both girls are well-drawn, grounded characters, and their internal struggles feel emotional and realistic.

One of the novel’s strongest subplots is the arc of Penny’s relationship with her mom. Sharpe never suggests that a relationship as fraught as theirs can be easily fixed with apologies or in a single conversation. Indeed, she acknowledges that such a relationship might not be possible to repair. Teen readers with difficult parental situations of their own will feel validated by the nuance Sharpe brings to this portrayal.

Sharpe untangles the knotted web of her novel with exacting balance and grace while never compromising the love story at its core. This swoony, Sapphic story is sure to please readers who like their romance with a side of emotional devastation.

This love story between two girls who can’t seem to stop almost kissing at inopportune moments is rich with friendship, family and the messiness of grief.
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Sixty-seven years after the savage murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, his cousin still seeks some kind of justice. Haunted by the 1955 hate crime that ignited the civil rights movement, Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr. brings everything and everyone back to life in A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till. The title comes from the Bible—“Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1, NIV)—and is aptly applied to the short life and violent death of 14-year-old Till, while also ironically relating to the decades of delayed and denied justice that followed.

Till’s murder became international news when his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket at the boy’s funeral, inviting the world to see her mutilated son. People fainted, the press raged—and yet the two white men accused of his murder were soon acquitted by an all-white jury. Not that the men worried about their fate; during their trial, they were allowed to leave their jail cells for supper with their families, carrying guns. Four months later, Look magazine published “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” by William Bradford Huie, which featured an exclusive interview with Till’s acquitted killers, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam. Milam admitted that they shot Till, tied a gin fan around his neck and rolled him into the river. Their confession earned them $4,000 and had no significant consequences.

Several investigations by the FBI and Department of Justice ensued, hindered by possibly racist politics and questionable sources. In 2017, Timothy Tyson published a bestselling book that contained a quotation from Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who claimed that Till had accosted her at the grocery store, motivating her husband and brother-in-law to pursue and eventually murder Till. In the quote, Donham recanted part of her original story. Or did she? As the Mississippi district attorney worked to confirm the quote in Tyson’s book, evidence of the author’s conversation with Donham vanished—if it ever existed.

Parker, with the help of his co-author, Christopher Benson, takes a hard look at everything that has transpired since 1955, including Parker’s own feelings of guilt. He was there the night Bryant and Milam came for Till, but he survived and went on to become a barber, minister and major force behind the family’s effort to achieve justice and right the record. His is a vivid chronicle of racism in America, an intense read that may make some readers uncomfortable. Perhaps that is the point. 

Anti-lynching bills struggled through Congress for years after Till’s murder. Finally, in March of 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime. As Benson writes in an afterword, “the work to achieve justice has just begun.”

The story of Emmett Till’s violent death in 1955 is retold by his cousin Wheeler Parker Jr., the force behind decades of attempts to achieve justice and right the record.
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Against the Currant transports readers to the Little Caribbean neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, where Lyndsay Murray is ready to open her own bakery. She just needs to clear her name first.

Lyndsay and her family have worked hard on Spice Isle Bakery. But on opening day, another local business owner, Claudio Fabrizi, visits the bakery and threatens Lindsay. He wants her store shut down before it can eat into his profits. Shaken but ready to fight for her business and family, Lyndsay kicks Claudio out. When he is found murdered the next day, police believe Lyndsay may be involved. To clear her name and ensure Spice Isle Bakery can stay open for business, Lyndsay begins investigating Claudio’s murder.

Readers will enjoy following Lyndsay as she navigates an increasingly dangerous situation. She’s smart, funny and hardworking, but it’s her dedication to her family and bakery that make her truly shine. The Murray family opened Spice Isle Bakery to celebrate their life and success in America, while also honoring their Grenadian heritage. Lyndsay knows all too well how her family poured everything they have—time, resources and money—into Spice Isle Bakery. She’s committed to clearing her name so that her parents, grandmother and brother won’t suffer. Lyndsay’s grandmother is a particularly memorable character: Fashionable Granny is equal parts wise and witty, and unconditionally supportive of her granddaughter’s dreams.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Against the Currant is how author Olivia Matthews brings Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean to life, immersing readers in the tightknit, bustling community. Matthews is a pen name for romance author Patricia Sargeant, who grew up in Little Caribbean herself and whose family history inspired Spice Isle Bakery. 

Cozy mystery fans will devour the fast-paced and exciting Against the Currant.

Cozy mystery fans will devour Against the Currant, which is set in a bakery in Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean neighborhood.
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Living through a real-life slasher attack changes a town. For Proofrock, Idaho, the Independence Day Massacre has left scars but has also drawn in new residents—some for the horror of it all, and others for the offer of free college in the aftermath of the traumatic event at the center of Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart Is a Chainsaw. Set four years later, Don’t Fear the Reaper returns to Chainsaw’s protagonist, Jade Daniels, who is not the same slasher-obsessed girl she once was. She is older and wiser, less compelled by the tidy plots of the films that once captured her imagination. But when a vehicle convoy transporting serial killer Dark Mill South wrecks outside of Proofrock, a whole new terror is unleashed on the town. The killer is out for revenge for the death by hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1862, and he walks into Proofrock with carnage on his mind. Over the course of 36 hours, the town’s carefully rebuilt peace is shattered as Dark Mill South carves his way through its residents, high schoolers and older townies alike. Jade’s fight to survive will test the very mettle of her being and every lesson she’s learned from her beloved horror films.

Jones’ second entry in his Indian Lake Trilogy is an all-consuming dive into the aesthetics of slasher films of yore, married with prose that takes itself seriously enough to be captivating but not so seriously that it feels needlessly glum. Don’t Fear the Reaper is a love letter to horror classics: Its characters reference iconic Final Girls and blood-spattered, seemingly immortal murderers in their dialogue even as Dark Mill South (a hulking monster whose preternatural gift for gore is remarkable even compared to his predecessors) plays out those tropes in front of them. Even the chapter titles are named after classics of the genre, from It Follows to Silent Night, Deadly Night. However, Jones doesn’t just deftly employ the tropes of slasher films; he expands them, giving his cast of teen characters the depth and motivation that is often lacking in a film genre that demands a tight 90-minute timeline. A perfect mix of compelling writing, characters who never cease to surprise and just the right amount of schlock, Don’t Fear the Reaper is a modern essential for anyone who loves rooting for the Final Girl.

A perfect mix of compelling writing, characters who never cease to surprise and just the right amount of schlock, Don’t Fear the Reaper is essential reading for anyone who loves rooting for the Final Girl.
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This home-and-back-again adventure tale belongs to Evergreen, a wide-eyed squirrel who lives deep in Buckthorn Forest. Evergreen has a long list of fears, including but not limited to germs, loud noises, heights, swimming and thunderstorms. When her mother asks her to travel through the forest to take soup to Granny Oak, Evergreen responds, “I can’t do it!” But her mother insists (”I know you are afraid, but I believe you can do it”), so Evergreen puts on her shawl and heads out. 

In an era of picture books that often contain sparse text, Evergreen stands out for its lengthy, detailed prose. Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell treats readers to an epic tale in six enumerated parts, filled with lively dialogue and hand-lettered onomatopoeia. “SKREEEE-EEE!” and “GRRROOOAAARRR!” go the forest creatures who frighten Evergreen on her journey. In one remarkably spine-tingling moment, a red-tailed hawk named Ember swoops down toward Evergreen, picks her up “with razor-sharp talons” and soars into the sky. Cordell offers a dramatic, close-up view of the scene as Evergreen and another animal run toward the reader, the hawk just behind them, its majestic wings exceeding the edges of the spread. 

Fortunately, Ember just needs Evergreen’s help to remove some painful thorns after an unlucky encounter with a bramble. “I . . . can do it,” Evergreen whispers, a self-directed pep talk that becomes her refrain throughout the story. With each creature she meets, Evergreen faces one of her fears with courage (and deep breaths and trembling hands), and she prevails every time—even when she meets “the Bear,” whose identity is a gratifying surprise. 

Cordell’s world building is immensely satisfying, and Evergreen is packed with entertaining textual and visual details. Evergreen delivers Mama’s “magic soup” in an empty acorn with a screw-on cap; her tattered shawl is red like another well-known woodland food delivery courier; and earth tone borders that look like tree branches frame many vignettes. Cordell drops a number of hints to a sequel, including a delightful map beneath the dust jacket and another delivery request from Evergreen’s mother toward the story’s conclusion. Readers would be so lucky. 

Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell packs entertaining textual and visual details into Evergreen, an epic home-and-back-again adventure about facing your fears.
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Occasionally, a book appears like a shimmering treasure stumbled upon during a forest walk. This is certainly the case with Iliana Regan’s memoir Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir. Her first book, Burn the Place, was a finalist for the National Book Award, chronicling growing up gay on an Indiana farm and creating her own Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago. In both memoirs, Regan is a hypnotizing writer who speaks to readers in a deeply personal way, writing in a natural voice that artfully interweaves past and present.

Regan’s exquisite, carefully planned prose paradoxically feels like a casual chat, the sort that might unfold spontaneously during a long weekend visit. As it turns out, some very lucky people can experience exactly that, because in 2020, Regan turned over her restaurant, Elizabeth, to her employees, and now she and her wife run the Milkweed Inn bed and breakfast in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Deep in the Hiawatha National Forest, 10 guests are treated to Regan’s culinary magic each weekend. During that time, Regan hopes they will experience something similar to the “magic of the farmhouse I grew up in.”

Fieldwork invites readers into this world, as Regan explores and forages in the nearby forest and river for food to use in meals at the inn. She also forages in her own mind for childhood memories, including those of her beloved parents and her grandmother Busia, a gifted cook who emigrated from Poland. Busia’s duck blood soup, or czarnina, exists in the author’s memories as a sort of magical potion, something akin to Marcel Proust’s madeleines. Regan also shares her ongoing struggles with recovering from alcoholism, the difficulties of running an inn during the COVID-19 pandemic, her fears of losing her parents, her anxieties about the world and her desire and attempts to become a parent. Alongside these thoughts, she captures the great beauty and comfort of the outdoors with the voice of a naturalist.

Regan has led an intriguing, unusual life, which gives her memoir a unique and compelling perspective. She notes, for instance, “Sometimes I think I would still like to be a man because I don’t feel like a woman. But I don’t feel like a man either. I feel more akin to a mushroom.” With both Burn the Place and Fieldwork, Regan has earned her place as not only a world-class chef but also a gifted memoirist.

As Iliana Regan forages in the forest for food to use in the meals she serves at her inn, she also forages in her own mind for shimmering, moving childhood memories.
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There’s something strange, magical and maybe a little tragic about being a preteen girl. You’re not really a kid anymore, but you’re definitely not an adult. Your body is changing in ways that are weird, uncomfortable and deeply embarrassing. But at the same time, it’s so easy to imagine how it’ll all work out, that just around the corner, you’ll be in high school—doing cool and daring things, having epic romances, blossoming into someone gorgeous, confident and desirable, like a character from Sweet Valley High. For most people, a little bit of magic goes out of the world as you realize that growing up never really goes according to plan. But . . . what if you could get some of that magic back?

When Georgie Mulcahy returns to her Virginia hometown at the beginning of Kate Clayborn’s Georgie, All Along, her story is that she’s there to help her best friend, who’s about to have a baby. The truth is that she doesn’t know what to do with herself. After years working as a personal assistant to various Hollywood types, she’s great at managing other people’s lives but way less skilled at figuring out what she might want to do with her own. But while rummaging  through old boxes at her friend’s place, Georgie finds a diary their preteen selves filled with dreams about all the amazing things they would do in high school. The lists are a decade and a half old, but better late than never! Georgie hopes that checking off her younger self’s wish list will help her recapture her spark. And best of all, she has a partner in crime in her quest: Levi Fanning, reformed bad boy and the older brother of her former crush. 

Georgie is a very appealing heroine: warm and vibrant with irrepressible enthusiasm for even the more outlandish ideas. And Levi, despite his initial awkwardness, balances her out, giving her dreams a steadier foundation and paying attention to all the little things that make a dream special. Neither had the best reputation when they were actually in high school, and it’s sweet to see how healing it is for both of them to reclaim some of the experiences they never really got to have. Clayborn takes teen movie tropes and gently tweaks them into something more colorful and messy and real. The prodigal daughter comes home—but doesn’t immediately discover her dream bakery or bookstore waiting for her. She reunites with the boy of her preteen dreams, who is still handsome, charming and appealing—but it’s his gruff brother she falls for. The bad boy is reformed—but he carries a lot of baggage that he and the prodigal daughter have to work through together. 

Life and love aren’t as clean and simple as we think they’ll be when we’re younger. But as Georgie, All Along sweetly attests, the pitfalls and struggles along the way make the happily ever after all the more worth it.

Kate Clayborn’s small-town romance takes teen movie tropes and gently tweaks them into something more colorful and messy and real.
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Jab. Duck-bap-bap. Jab. Duck-bap-bap. Duckbapbap. Duckbapbap. Find your rhythm. Feel your fists against the pads. Know where your next move is and who’s on your side. In Torrey Maldonado’s Hands, getting stronger, faster and tougher is all that 12-year-old Trevor cares about. 

As the book opens, Trevor’s life has been turned upside down. His stepdad has been arrested for hitting his mom and has threatened revenge against her for calling the police. In that moment, Trevor promised himself that no one will ever hit his mom ever again. 

It doesn’t matter that grown-ups keep telling him that he shows promise—academic promise, artistic promise, athletic promise—or that his dad and uncles wanted him to stay in school so he could get out of the projects. What matters to Trevor is that he has to protect his mom and sisters, and sometimes, he thinks, you just have to solve things with your hands.

Trevor throws himself into getting stronger and learning to fight, first on his own and later with his friend P, who moves into Trevor’s building. But when the trainer at the rec center refuses to help with training because he promised Trevor’s Uncle Lou that he would help Trevor “not to think with his fists,” Trevor begins to wonder whether fighting will solve his problems or just make new ones.

Hands is a compact, fast-paced novel narrated in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness style. Maldonado uses short, staccato sentences like feinted boxing jabs to draw readers in, then rocks them with explosive uppercuts of words and emotions, knocking them into unsteadiness and leaving them uncertain how the next round will go. Trevor’s journey through fear, anger and abandonment toward finding support and true strength is authentic and hopeful.

At just 128 pages, Hands is Maldonado’s shortest work. Although its length makes it approachable for older but less adept readers, the book never sacrifices linguistic or narrative complexity. Readers who enjoy realistic, slice-of-life fiction will be quickly engaged by Trevor’s story, and Maldonado will keep them hooked through all 10 rounds.

This fast-paced novel uses staccato sentences like feinted boxing jabs to draw readers in, then rocks them with explosive uppercuts of words and emotions.
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Sheila Liming’s Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time is a thoughtful manifesto on the inherently subversive and joyous act of socializing. In seven chapters about different types of hanging out (“Dinner Parties as Hanging Out,” “Hanging Out on the Job,” etc.), Liming explores the fading art of leisure and its cultural roots.

Liming defines hanging out as a conscious act of refusal in a production-obsessed society. “Hanging out is about daring to do nothing much,” she writes, “and, even more than that, about daring to do it in the company of others.” She acknowledges that it is a peculiar time—amid the COVID-19 pandemic—to call for a return to the in-person hang, but this context is precisely why we are realizing the importance of spending idle time in physical communities. We cannot let corporate capitalism snatch away what is left of our free time, Liming argues. “Time is being stolen from us—not for the first time . . . but at newly unprecedented rates.”

Hanging Out reads as a chattier, slightly more precious version of How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. The book embraces its call for intentional meandering with wide-ranging references and a loose narrative structure. An English professor, Liming is unsurprisingly the most compelling when she incorporates literary criticism into her treatise. While the personal stories drag, the fiction references crackle. This is particularly true in her analysis of “party literature” in the chapter “Hanging Out at Parties,” in which Liming looks at several 20th-century novels and examines the different ways parties have functioned as social mechanisms.

What is quickly revealed in Liming’s contemplative writing is that hanging out—and all of its possible ramifications, limitations and effects—is too enormous a subject to comprehensively discuss. Instead, Liming uses her time to argue for the importance of mingling with others and finding time, even in an increasingly virtual world, to enjoy the hang.

Sheila Liming’s Hanging Out reveals how the joyous act of socializing is inherently subversive.

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