Critical Notes

New Reviews and More From NBCC Members

By David Varno

A jumble of books, view of their spines

Dear NBCC Friends,

It’s still a good time of the year to get involved with the NBCC or renew your membership. The deadline for board candidate statements has been extended to this Sunday, December 11.

Galley Bag

Here’s another one from your newsletter editor, David Varno. Among the titles I selected for Publishers Weekly’s Spring Announcements feature in this week’s issue, here are a few I’ve picked up recently that I’m particularly excited about:

Chain Gang All Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Pantheon, Apr.), which sounds completely harrowing but also thrilling; The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor (Riverhead, May), because I love all of his writing and I love fiction about work; Brother & Sister Enter the Forest by Richard Mirabella (Catapult, Mar.), because it’s set in Albany, N.Y., where I was born and went to a high school I hated, but the city still has a weird hold on me; and Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (FSG, Mar.), because I also love all of her writing and am intrigued by this one’s book-within-a-book structure. Perhaps she and Kirkus Prize-winning Trust author Hernan Diaz will turn up together on a panel next year.


Roxana Robinson wrote about Joan Didion’s style—the sentences and the sunglasses—in a piece for the New Yorker about a recent auction of the late writer’s belongings.

Colette Bancroft reviewed Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead for the Tampa Bay Times.

Regina Marler reviewed Andrea Barrett’s collection Natural History for the New York Review of Books. The magazine also interviewed Marler about the piece, as part of their series of conversations with contributors.

Dan Kois rounded up his ten best books of the year for Slate.

Diane Josefowicz reviewed Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, translated by Brian Fitzgibbon for Liber.

Jason Berry wrote a piece for The Daily Beast on the singer and scholar Florence Dore forging links between rock music and modern fiction. Berry also published an essay on the poet Rodger Kamenetz for Commonweal.

Amy Reardon reviewed Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen for Ploughshares.

Kathleen Rooney reviewed Ordinary Wonder Tales by Emily Urquhart for Libre.

Marcie McCauley reviewed Graeme Macrae Burnet’s novel Case Study in the Chicago Review of Books.

Heather Scott Partington reviewed Manuel Munoz’s collection The Consequences for Alta

Kathryn Ma reviewed Jade Moon Le’s novel Invisible Orphans for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Linda Hitchcock reviewed Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim by D.T. Max and Playing Under the Piano by Hugh Bonneville for BookTrib.

Kirkus nonfiction reviews editor Eric Libetrau highlighted seven books about nature.

Tobias Carroll reviewed Erika T. Wurth’s White Horse and Kay Chronister’s Desert Creatures for

Jean Huets reviewed Before All the World by Moriel Rothman-Zecher for the Historical Novel Society. 

Fran Hawthorne reviewed Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet for the New York Journal of Books.

Board member Jacob M. Appel reviewed My Life of Crime: Essays and Other Entertainments by Tyler C. Gore for Heavy Feather Review.

Jeffrey Mannix reviewed The Favor by Nicci French for his Murder Ink column in the Durango Telegraph, serving southwest Colorado. 


Lauren LeBlanc talked with Elizabeth Strout about Lucy by the Sea for Oprah Daily.

Elaine Szewczyk profiled historical fiction writer Pam Jenoff for Publishers Weekly.

Chris Wolak and Emily Fine interviewed Blair Braverman about her debut novel, Small Game; and Marcia Clark, author of Fall Girl, for their Book Cougars podcast.

Kristen Martin spoke with Heather Radke about her book Butts: A Backstory for BOMB.

Julia M. Klein profiled Margaret Wilkerson Sexton for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.

Partner Events

Rain Taxi is holding a virtual event on December 7 with Judith Thurman, Kate DiCamillo, and Louise Erdrich, for the launch of Thurman’s new book A Left-Handed Woman.

SEND US YOUR STUFF: To have your work featured in the weekly Critical Notes, please send your bylines to We would be grateful if you would limit submissions to no more than four per week. Please be sure to include the author and full title, the publication, and a working link, along with your name and pronouns. If applicable, please include your twitter handle and we will try to share your work via @bookcritics as our resources allow.

For Galley Bag, please send info and notes on forthcoming books that have piqued your interest, with pub dates at least three months out. 


Photo by Dom J

SEND US YOUR STUFF: To have your work featured in the weekly Critical Notes, please join the NBCC. Thanks!!