Kalani is the general manager of Third Place Books Ravenna. He studied creative writing at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, and graduated from the University of Denver's Publishing Institute. He once attended a Seattle Mariners playoff game in the Kingdome. He likes to drive fast cars.
In the early days of COVID, after his father's death, Italian writer Edoardo Nesi calls his old friends, an economist, an industrialist, a writer, and others asking them what they predict will happen at the end of the pandemic. The wandering dialogues about Italian culture, work, and family throughout this short book are completely captivating and thought provoking. There will soon be many books written about the year 2020, but this captures the melancholic early days of COVID from a deeply fascinating perspective.
Picking a couple people/pages every few days, I slow-read this book over the course of a year. I loved reading about what people are reading and what life perspectives brought them to their book of choosing. This is truly a booklover's book.
This is a deeply humanistic character study of a serial killer AND the people affected by his crimes. Readers know who the murderer is on page one and the other typical driving questions of who/what/when/where/why are all secondary in this book. Instead, Kukafka creates a fascinating portrait of several women who have to survive the aftermath of one man's actions. This is a wonderfully profound and empathetic thriller.
“What does it mean to be a poet without poems?” asks author Sam Riviere in this incredibly transfixing novel of a disgraced writer’s exile after being deemed a plagiarist by new qualitative comparison technology. I found myself stupefied at the brilliance of Riviere’s sharp sentences throughout this completely original story that spans a single night. This is a novel for writers and poets everywhere.
Like author Michelle Zauner, I also lost a parent in 2014. While reading Crying in the H Mart I was vividly transported back to that time through Zauner's careful writing, reliving the same pain and grief, but also feeling the powerful love of family that emerges from such difficult times. This is a beautiful, emotional memoir that captures the heartbreak of losing a parent perfectly.
Starting off as a novel about two Korean adoptee best friends in search of their birth parents, the book makes some wild left turns and becomes a North Korean political satire of sorts (!?). Somehow, this quirky book pulls off being both a poignant exploration of identity and family while featuring some of the most bizarre characters and situations. This is one of the more unpredictable books I've read in quite some time.
Initially skeptical to read a book about a young musician with just a couple albums out (who may not have even hit his creative peak yet), I quickly understood just why, in the year 2020, this book needed to come out. Using the framework of the 4 albums of Kendrick Lamar, Marcus J. Moore writes a "cultural biography" to explain the intersection of hip-hop and the Black Lives Matter movement today. This is a timely read about one of the great popular musical artists of today.
Vendela Vida makes the posh suburbs of 1980s San Francisco so oddly familiar and relatable in this wonderful coming-of-age novel about a couple of 13 year old girls, the eccentric Eulabee and her best friend, the decorous Maria Fabiola. Childhood friendships are full of love and laughter but at the same time messy and confusing, Vida perfectly captures the complexities of these formative years in a refreshing and authentic way.
This is a powerhouse debut novel featuring some quirky outsider characters that feel so strangely familiar. When a young idealistic Northwest city girl moves deep into the Appalachians to live off the land, we get a deeply layered novel that is somehow a tenderhearted family story about class while also being absolutely hilarious. Seamlessly alternating between four different first-person perspectives, Madeline ffitch’s writing is perfectly voiced. Stay and Fight is a fantastic novel of these times.
Using the framework of 12 classic works of literature to tell the story of his childhood, Phuc Tran has written a quintessential memoir of American assimilation. This is the nerdy, punk-rock immigrant story I never knew I needed. A perfect read for anyone who has longed to just fit it. Highly recommended
The only criticism I have of this book is that the flames on the cover art need to be bigger!!! It simply doesn't match the fiery intensity of Hong's writing. This book is an Asian American history masterclass told in 200 pages of straight fire. Must read!
The Hawaiian motto of “Ohana Over Everything” sums up this beautiful debut novel by Kawai Strong Washburn. This is a family that swims off the page into real life. As the son of Native Hawaiians from the Big Island myself, I often felt like the children of this novel. I understood Dean’s rebellion, I felt Kaui’s search for purpose, and I rooted wholeheartedly for Nanoa’s ambitious spirit to save the family. This is the Hawaiian novel I’ve long waited for.
Primarily taking place during the forgotten Laotian Civil War, a war that is known as “America’s secret war of the 1960s,” Run Me to Earth follows three orphan teenagers just trying to survive among the wreckage around them. Paul Yoon has written the perfect follow up to the gorgeous collection of stories in The Mountain, that also follows the lives of innocent civilians who are left to pick up the pieces after destruction and war. We see the three teenagers grow up and separate but they remain forever tied though their tragic memories of childhood. Yoon has proven to be masterful at creating quietly compelling characters with real human stories that stay with you once you close the book. This is a timeless work by a writer at the top of his craft.
E. J. Koh is a poet and translator and in her debut memoir we see proof of a master of language at work. At 15 years old, E. J.'s parents "temporarily" move back to Korea, leaving her and her brother by themselves in California. This coming-of-age memoir skillfully tells the story of a family's complicated history and love for each other.
Starting as an investigation of a couple of seemingly unconnected rapes from Lynnwood and Kirkland, this book transitions and becomes a powerfully written anti-police procedural of sorts where we uncover how the criminal justice system fails victims of sexual assault at every turn. In the era of #MeToo and #BelieveSurvivors, this book is an uncomfortable, highly disturbing read, but it's important as ever.
The Collected Schizophrenias is a book that will change the way we view people's struggles with mental illness. From diagnosis to her ongoing treatment today, Esme Weijun Wang bravely provides us with an honest portrayal of her life with scizoaffective disorder. Written with a beautiful sensitivity, this book shatters the stigmas we have of schizophrenics and those battling mental illnesses.
This collection of previously published essays establishes Wesley Yang as one of the great cultured observers of these times. Absolutely one of the best collections of the year.
An incredibly touching memoir that explores family and race through the eyes of a Korean American adoptee on the brink of motherhood. Nicole Chung has written a geniune account of adoption and what it means to be a mother, a daughter, and a sister in a complicated family full of secrets. This is a beautiful, emotional book that would be great to share with a family member.
At 42 years old, a 500-page biography naturally seems a bit premature in telling his complete life story, but Tiger's life since birth has truly been extraordinary. Not just for golf fans, this book reads like a Shakespearean tragedy. Absolutely one of the most compelling biographies I've read in a long time.
A short novel with just a couple characters, this is the perfect type of book to take on a weekend trip. Spanning several years of Adam and Anita's increasingly mundane marriage, their artistic creativity is re-awoken when the mysterious immigrant, Adele, is hired as their nanny. While only 150-pages, the book provides a thought-provoking study on heavy themes like love, marriage, friendship, art, and culture.
Spanning 50 non-linear years, this poetically written novel is one of the best debuts of the year. Told from multiple points-of-voices, the characters in this book struggle to heal after a devastating tragedy destroys their small town Idaho life. Beautifully written, Emily Ruskovich is an exciting new name in the literary world of the Pacific Northwest.
Structurally modeled after Walter Isaacson's book on the tech industry (The Innovators), this book tells the story of a different group of emerging billionaires, substituting Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Page for Dr. Dre, Diddy, and Jay-Z. Succinctly telling the story of the rise of hip-hop through the biography of three of the biggest names in rap, Greenburg has crafted a fantastic portrait of modern music entrepreneurship.
*A perfect companion book to the fantastic HBO documentary mini-series "The Defiant Ones"
I imagine the musical soundtrack of Tomb Song to be comprised of jazz. Full of energy and chaos, emotional highs and lows, and wild unpredictability, this is a coming-of-age "novel" like you've never read before. Respect must go to Christina MacSweeney (award winning translator of Valeria Luiselli) for translating a seemingly irreproducible piece of writing into English. I look forward to reading more Julian Herbert!
Over the course of reading Disappointment River, I found myself frequently looking up canoe and kayak prices at my local outdoor sporting store, the same way I was actually looking up trips to Alaska while reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. While I'm not a rower, I found myself hearing the call of the Mackenzie River in this dual narrative that simultaneously transports the reader back to the late-1700s to tell the story of the early American fur trade and the significance of the Northwest Passage while also serving as a contemporary travelogue of author Brian Castner, as he retraces explorer Alexander Mackenzie's journey himself in a completely changed landscape over 200 years later. Castner, a former explosive ordnance officer in Iraq, is known as the author of two books detailing experiences in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has written a new type of adventure with the same level of command and authority on the subject.
This is a beautiful story about an unlikely friendship between a Taiwanese-American college graduate from the Midwest and a young African-American student dropout from the Mississippi Delta who is convicted of murder. Michelle Kuo details her time with Teach For America in the deep south and her relationship with her prized student with careful observations making this book a poignant study of race, class, justice, and education.
This should be required reading for all teachers!
A difficult book to review because of the brevity of each rather somber story, but this is a beautiful collection of quiet, but touching tales linked by the theme of war and displacement. It takes a special writer to create such atmospheric prose. Read this collection slowly on a rainy day.
This was a delightful read full of hard-hitting sports journalism that asks questions like: "Was Kobe Bryant a dork?" and answers questions like "Where would The Office's Jim Halpert get drafted in the Fictional Player Draft?" (spoiler: 1st Round 26th pick). This is truly a fun book for even the most casual sports fan that is desperately needed in this new age where boring sabermetric stats and over-analytics are beginning to ruin sports.
A young Swedish boy comes to the U.S. in the 1840s only to be immediately separated from his older brother. While becoming a man, he travels alone across the lawless American west, reputation growing as an outlaw legend known only as "The Hawk." Part coming-of-age tale, part survivalist story, you have never read a western frontier novel like this. Truly one of the best books of the year.
A devastating read about the short tragic life of collegiate sprinter Madison Holleran, a 19-year-old girl who seemingly had everything in life before her abrupt suicide. Fagan blends her own story as a depressed college athlete looking for answers to tell this heartbreaking story. This is an important read to understand the growing pressures of young people today as they hide behind emojis and happy instagram pictures without ever revealing who they really are.
It's Annie meets Lord of the Flies in this haunting story of a young orphan girl who becomes alienated from the other girls in her foster home. While it is a quick read, it is terrifyingly memorable and beautifully translated, and every sentence is truly worth the price.
A fascinating exploration of the many cutting-edge techniques and technologies that are making our top athletes (Steph Curry, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, and many others make cameo appearances throughout the book) even stronger, faster, and better. Not just for athletes, this book is a great introduction for anyone looking to improve their mind and focus using the absolute newest methods out. Chapters highlight advancements in wearable technology, new apps that connect to your brain, sensory-deprivation chambers, and even wild ayahuasca trips.
Read chapter 1 to get inside the brain of Russell Wilson during the high pressure '15 NFC Championship game when the Seahawks were down 19-7 late in the fourth quarter and still WON THE GAME!
This illustrated memoir tells the story of a family that is forced to flee their home country in the midst of the Vietnam War. Debut author Thi Bui intimately shares her unique point-of-view as a 2nd-generation Vietnamese-American in simple but beautiful illustrations. This is simply a must-read to better understand the perspective of refugees and the many obstacles they face.
Multi-generational sagas don't get better than this beautiful story of one poor Korean family that moves to Japan. Spanning the years 1910 to 1989, this book describes the immigrant's experience in a way that is completely relevant today. Min Jin Lee has found the perfect image, the pachinko board, to represent the uncertainties in life. I haven't read a novel with such emotion since Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance.
Many of these collected stories detail sexual trauma, a subject Roxane Gay has personally discussed in the past. Needless to say, this collection makes for an uncomfortable read. Each story additionally explores themes of motherhood, gender, class, and race all while detailing intricate, difficult women. Roxane Gay is an incredible writer for being able to pack such an emotional punch in each of these short stories. This is a deeply powerful collection of short fiction at its very best.
I’ve always found the endurance sports to be underrated, but after reading this book, I’m more convinced than ever that long-distant runners are superhuman and that the major marathons should be televised events that everyone should watch. The early review of this book as “Hoop Dreams for runners” is as good as anything I can say about it. I’m just amazed that within our lifetime, we are going to see a human being run 26.2 miles in under two hours!
So many writers (Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and others) have written about Muhammad Ali, yet Miller might just be the greatest at writing about the iconic boxer. Told over several decades of Ali's post-boxing career, this book truly captures what an incredible individual Ali was, going much further than being a great athlete, Ali is a fascinating human.
Sherman Alexie said that this was one of the greatest sports novels ever written and I would have to agree. This is a great story of basketball and friendship in the run down streets of San Francisco.
This is technically a novel in letters that tells the story of a broken heart but it really serves as the author's actual suicide letter. Needless to say, this is a difficult read knowing that the author was revealing a lot about her own personal struggles before her tragic suicide at the age of 26. An unforgettable reading experience.
I've spent a little time in the world of competitive athletics and I must say, this novel depicts "race day" better than I've ever seen. The first page is the cyclist getting his bike ready for the race and the last page is the cyclist leaving to go home, the pages in between are full of pure adrenaline.
I only discovered Adrian Tomine recently and have been reading everything he has ever published with a vengeance. His latest collection shows his maturation as both an illustrator and a master of short fiction (the comparisons to Raymond Carver are quite accurate). Still only in his early 40s, Tomine will be making great graphic stories for a long time!
Asian-American characters have never been more multi-faceted than they are in this novel that defies racial stereotypes while giving us a glimpse of the struggles of being a starving artist. Our central character gets hit by a car and dies on the second page. It is impossible to stop reading from there as we rewind several years back.
Alfred Hayes was known primarily as a screenwriter but this fantastic short novel proves that he was just as great writing fiction as he was for writing for film. This is absolutely the perfect novel about Hollywood - involving a mysterious aspiring actress and a cynical writer who hates Los Angeles.
This brilliant work of metafiction has everything! Unreliable narrators, exotic world locations, sex, drugs, murder, family secrets, and a bunch of philosophy!?! Fans of Italo Calvino will love this book (just read the first two pages to get hooked). This hidden Australian classic was an absolutely great reading experience for me and I look to reread this someday.
Castner, a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer who served three tours of duty in Iraq, has written a book that brings readers backstage, intimately unveiling modern warfare in a way that is completely fresh. By asking the question "Who is the man who killed my friend?" Castner becomes a detective searching for the man who built the bomb that killed his EOD-brother.
Harden masterfully tells the story of good versus evil in this dual biography of two very different North Korean men. Told primarily in the time of the Korean War, this book gives us proper context as to why North Korea is so out of touch in today's world. This is an important story (just like Harden's previous "Escape From Camp 14") that shows the complexities of living under the brutal North Korean dictatorship.
The central character of this book has an unsettling dream, wakes up and becomes a strict vegetarian. Things rapidly spiral out of control and soon the reader begings to feel as if this very book is a dream itself. This is a very strange, dark book that is depressing, yet very memorable and beautiful.
This is what absurdist social commentary is all about! Beatty tackles the always hot-button issue of race beautifully in this satirical masterpiece of a black urban farmer who attempts to resegregate his hometown. This is as funny as it is deeply thought-provoking. One of the best, most entertaining novels I've read in awhile.
Novelist Ruth Ozeki stares into a mirror for 3 hours - not exactly an exciting premise, yet somehow, she makes this experiment absolutely riveting. By studying the lines on her face in moment-to-moment detail, Ozeki reflects upon her upbringing and her life today as a bestselling author, revealing more about her true self in this short book than in any of her novels.
This is a fascinating exploration of Lahiri's love of language. No, not the English language (the one that made her the youngest Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner in 2000), but the Italian langauge that she learned as an adult. Written 100% in Italian (then translated into English by Ann Goldstein), this is a deeply introspective book that is Lahiri's most revealing and intimate. A must for Lahiri lovers and linguaphiles!
Packing an emotional punch on the level of Spiegleman's Maus, this graphic novel explores grief and hope after a little girl's sudden death. Tom Hart gives us an incredibly raw look at his experience dealing with an unimaginable circumstance. Deeply powerful read.
Instead of going off to college, Katherine Carlyle throws her cellphone in a river and disappears. Her journey in search of her true self takes her across Europe into the Arctic Circle. Never predictable, Katherine is a deeply unique character. Thomson's writing is full of emotion and intrigue. One of my favorite new release novels of the year.
Eilis Lacey is one of the greatest young adult female characters I've read. Taking place in 1950's Ireland and Brooklyn, this coming of age tale quietly sneaks up to you leaving an unforgettable mark. This is one of the great novels about American immigration.
Read the book first ...then go see the movie!
This was my first experience reading a Franzen novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it, ripping through this fast-paced 600 page novel. Reading this book sooner than later is a must due to its topical placement in the world of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden-type figures in current global politics. It's not hard to keep track of the slew of characters as each one of them is written so memorably.
A young Seattle hipster moves cross-country for grad school while his best friend goes to fight in the Iraq War. The generation-y apathy is perfectly captured in this fantastic coming of age/war story from a pair of first-time writers. Our two protagonists become more complex with every page as they battle with both Boston's intellectual pretentiousness and Baghdad militants.
This hilarious collection of stories proves that "millennials" really are just spoiled little brats! The gem in this collection is the novelette-length "Sell Out" which features a time travelling 1914 Ellis Island immigrant in competition with his 2014 Brooklyn-hipster great-great grandson. Truly LOL!
Partially a meditation on addiction and partially an astronomy lesson (*also partially a road trip novel, of sorts), this stream of consciousness novel is an absolute gut punch of a read. Tackling heavy subjects like anorexia/bulimia, alcoholism, obsession with celebrity, big-agriculture/big-pharma. An excellent debut novel.
This is more a biography of an entire group of people rather than an individual. Tizon writes about growing up as a Filipino-American, yet it is a highly recognizable tale other Asian-Americans (like myself) can fully relate to. This bio becomes more of an investigative study on the concept of masculinity and a criticism about an overlooked aspect of American culture.
An Indian man who has never before left his tiny village travels to a Parisian Ikea. Hilarity ensues. This is an absurd comedy-adventure but features enough heart and sincerity to make one a little teary-eyed. Already a #1 bestselling hit in France, this book is sure to make anyone smile - I mean just look at the crazy title!
Told by people who were actually part of the NYC art scene and knew Basquiat. This book captures the raw energy of the 1980s counterculture. Written by an accomplished Mexican-American poet, the story blends prose. poems, and transcriptions in telling the often heart-breaking love story of TWO larger than life artists. Understanding Basquiat's work is not necessary to enjoy this quick read.
Walter's collection of stories brings the small-town Northwest region to life with an array of down on their luck characters (hobos, gamblers, thieves, etc.). The opening story, my favorite, "Anything Helps," is about a homeless panhandler who wants to buy the new Harry Potter book. Funny but sad yet frighteningly realistic.
Knowing as little as possible about this book makes for the optimal reading experience. Let's just say there is a mysterious boarding school for young and talented British children... No, it has nothing to do with wizards or Harry Potter, but this book is chillingly magical and a great example of perfect narrative flow.
A truly one of a kind story of the only known person to escape a North Korean prison camp. Shin Dong-hyuk was born in the prison and had no idea of what life was like on the outside. This devastating story is what led to my own involvement with the "Liberty in North Korea" (LiNK) advocacy group for North Korean refugees.
Brian Castner is courageous for serving three tours of duty in the Middle East with the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit. Yet, he is even more courageous for sharing his true story and allowing readers to get deep inside the mind of a soldier fighting a physical war in Iraq and an emotional war with himself upon returning home.