May 1, 2013 Irish novelist Edna O'Brien looks back on eight tumultuous decades in a new memoir, Country Girl. Reviewer Heller McAlpin says the book is "a generous gift to readers" but too circumspect about O'Brien's personal life — which included encounters with Samuel Beckett, Richard Burton and Paul McCartney.
April 17, 2013 David Sedaris' latest essay collection, Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, mixes his trademark quirky observations with less successful fictional asides in which he takes on the voices of assorted ultraconservative bad guys.
April 2, 2013 Patricia Volk's new memoir, Shocked, chronicles her complex relationship with her beautiful, exacting mother. She finds a useful contrast to her mother's stifled life in a memoir by avant-garde designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Reviewer Heller McAlpin calls the book a "stylish coming-of-age tale."
March 27, 2013 Amid a literary landscape rife with metafictional and postmodern high jinks, Jill McCorkle has dared to write a heartwarmer set largely in a retirement home. Her Life After Life celebrates late-life epiphanies and old-fashioned kindness.
March 26, 2013 Kristopher Jansma's hyper-inventive debut novel The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards explores the blurred boundary between truth and lies in a writer's life. Reviewer Heller McAlpin says the book "reaches a dizzying complexity that borders on the tiresome."
March 7, 2013 Marisa Silver's new novel, Mary Coin, is a fictionalized look at a famous Depression-era photograph: Dorothea Lange's iconic "Migrant Mother." Reviewer Heller McAlpin says Silver skilfully weaves together different eras and narratives, creating "quietly heroic yet very human characters."
February 14, 2013 By the time Wendy Plump learned that her husband had a longtime mistress and an 8-month-old son, their union already bore the scars of adultery — both his and hers. Plump's marital post-mortem, Vow, is a frank, intelligent inquiry into the thrills and anguish of infidelity.
February 5, 2013 See Now Then, Jamaica Kincaid's first novel in a decade, follows a neglected wife in a small New England town. Reviewer Heller McAlpin says the book reads as if "Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf had collaborated on a heartbroken housewife's lament."
December 3, 2012 This year's treasures include a heart-racing memoir, a fun first novel, a fascinating study of fraternal bonds, plus Toni Morrison's Home and Christopher Hitchens' last work. Critic Heller McAlpin has sifted through piles of new publications and panned for literary gold.
November 20, 2012 The latest book by former New Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb, Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens, reads more like scintillating gossip about the famous writer and his family than literary scholarship. NPR's Heller McAlpin is fine with that.
November 13, 2012 British author Ian McEwan is known for multilayered tales with surprise endings, and his latest novel doesn't disappoint. The story of a Cold War intelligence agent who falls for the target of her investigation is sprinkled with hints of subversive intents, making it a clever bonbon of a book.
November 6, 2012 Barbara Kingsolver's seventh novel addresses global warming and the failings of public education through the story of a Tennessee woman whose thus-far disappointing life changes when 15 million monarch butterflies alight in the woods near her home.
September 25, 2012 The traditional mother-daughter dynamic turned on its head for New York Times columnist Alex Witchel in the wake of her mother's struggle with dementia. But Witchel's memoir, despite its raw honesty, fails to provide the depth needed to make it a standout in a trendy genre.
September 5, 2012 Iconoclastic journalist Christopher Hitchens, who died from esophageal cancer in December 2011, chronicled his battle with the disease — his 18 months "of living dyingly" — in Mortality. Critic Heller McAlpin says the tragically posthumous work is full of his pugnacious, ever-bright prose.
August 30, 2012 How much do the people who've made it owe to the people who've been left behind? That question is at the heart of Zadie Smith's new novel NW, a nuanced and disturbing look at class issues in a working-class northwest London neighborhood.