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.
August 21, 2012 Auster's latest delivers six decades worth of thoughtful anecdotes in second-person narration. The memoir is as unconventional as his first, The Invention of Solitude, and covers everything from his relationship with his mother to the houses where he's lived.
August 14, 2012 In former television writer Maria Semple's second novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, 15-year-old Bee searches for her missing mother, an eccentric former architect. Semple mixes police and FBI reports, school documents and catty emails, all with commentary from Bee.
July 17, 2012 Who says humor books can't be serious? Critic Heller McAlpin recommends some light but not weightless reads on mostly modern dilemmas: the pitfalls of class snobbery, what to do with those expensive higher degrees, the challenges of long marriages, and why otherwise rational women wear high heels.
July 5, 2012 In Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, Daniel Smith delves into his own experiences with crippling neuroses, which he believes can be controlled if not cured. Anxiety afflicts 18 percent of the adult U.S. population, so Smith's candid self-exploration may prove helpful to many.
July 3, 2012 Gear up for this summer's Games with Chris Cleave's new novel about three Olympic cyclists. With careful pacing, complex characters and an ambitious plot, the author of Little Bee crafts a tale of sports racing that explores themes of time, ambition and love.
June 13, 2012 In Mark Haddon's new book, two estranged siblings — and their disjointed families — share a holiday just after their mother's funeral. There's tension and tenderness, but the novel's several perspectives result in the literary equivalent of a dropped cellphone call.
June 4, 2012 The latest from Andrei Makine — often described as a Russian Proust — tells the story of Ivan Shutov, a disillusioned writer who tries to reconnect with his native Russia after decades as an expat. The country has moved on, but Shutov makes an unlikely connection with a grizzled veteran.
May 16, 2012 After a museum conservator's lover dies, she becomes consumed with reanimating a 19th-century silver swan automaton. Critic Heller McAlpin says that Peter Carey's new novel is part historical, part fanciful and completely wonderful.
May 15, 2012 Toni Morrison's latest novel revisits the story of the prodigal son, as a Korean War veteran returns to his hometown in the pre-civil rights era South. Critic Heller McAlpin says Home is as accessible and visceral as anything Morrison has written.