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December 4, 2020

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 12/4/20

COBBLE HILL by Cecily von Ziegesar (Atria). The title prompts an alert: This is a novel, not a sociological study of the latest smartest place in Brooklyn; it's full of real people to get to know …

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December 4, 2020

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COBBLE HILL by Cecily von Ziegesar (Atria). The title prompts an alert: This is a novel, not a sociological study of the latest smartest place in Brooklyn; it's full of real people to get to know intimately. The author of the Gossip Girl books is not just smart, but compassionate and insightful. This is full-hearted storytelling, then, amused and amusing, but warmly so: likable people, families, seriously working as we all do at making constructive as well as enjoyable, loving lives, and we get to know a nicely assorted bunch of them.

SOMEWHERE IN THE UNKNOWN WORLD by Kao Kalia Yang (Holt). Maybe the most American book I've ever read; it's fourteen small memoirs of immigrants, to Minneapolis, refugees from very diverse parts of the earth (Minnesota has become, while we were paying it little attention, maybe the most diverse state in America). They're all told by their central figures, but also by Kao Kalia Yang, evidently an interviewer of sensitivity and unmistakably a writer with a crystalline style (well, if crystal can have soft edges). Intimate, personal rather than political; not one of them is simple, none are free of loss and sorrow, not a one of them fails to inspire. Making your way to another part of the world, and then making a place for yourself there, has never been only a great adventure. It's good to be reminded, though it's hardly the purpose of this book: most of us Americans are descended, at least distantly, from such people.

HOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA by Kiese Laymon (Scribner). A new, trade paperback edition of this book of essays by the brilliant memoirist (HEAVY) and novelist, a complicated guy who's never hard to understand, or indeed to agree with, though he's sometimes annoyed if you understand him too quickly. Both unsettling and enlightening, and more of both, the more you read him.

THE LADY UPSTAIRS by Halley Sutton (Putnam). Fun in an entirely other way; this is a strikingly smart, sharp-witted but only glancingly funny—while head-on tense, even hard-boiled—woman-centered L.A. crime novel, outstanding even in the present season of excellence in this field. A first novel, but you'll find that hard to believe. Expect awards.

THE LADY BREWER OF LONDON by Karen Collins (Morrow). And a lady of a very different sort; this is a richly rewarding historical novel—deep-historical, medieval times, the 1400s. The apparently pampered daughter of a wealthy merchant, comfortable in a manor house, finds her family suddenly facing financial ruin. She has learned principles of brewing ale, a tradition in her Dutch mother's family, as supposedly enriching but impractical lore, but, chin into the wind. . . . By the author of THE LOCKSMITH'S DAUGHTER and THE CHOCOLATE MAKER'S WIFE.

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