Heller McAlpin

Heller McAlpin is a New York-based critic who reviews books regularly for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.

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Best Books Of 2012
7:03 am
Mon December 3, 2012

Finder's Keepers: 2012's Stories To Hang On To

Nishant Choksi

Originally published on Thu December 6, 2012 12:05 pm

Part of a book critic's challenge is to sift through piles of new publications, panning for literary gold. In a way that makes us what one of my favorite children's book heroines, Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking, called a "turnupstuffer" — "Somebody who finds the stuff that turns up if only you look." Or like Dickens' optimistic Mr. Micawber, who was always sure something good would turn up.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue November 20, 2012

Famous Father Had Highest 'Expectations'

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

You would think, wouldn't you, that the man who created such heartrendingly sympathetic children as Oliver Twist, Pip, Tiny Tim and poor Little Nell would be a stupendous father. Well, the Charles Dickens who emerges from Robert Gottlieb's Great Expectations, a compulsively readable if occasionally repetitive account of what happened to the great writer's brood of seven sons and three daughters, is not so wonderful.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue November 13, 2012

Delicious Deceit Abounds In McEwan's 'Sweet Tooth'

Ian McEwan's other books include Solar, For You and On Chesil Beach.
Eamonn McCabe Courtesy of Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

Originally published on Tue November 13, 2012 2:49 pm

Ian McEwan's 15th book of fiction, Sweet Tooth, is a Tootsie Roll Pop of a literary confection — hard-boiled candy enrobing a chewy surprise at its core. The novel is set 40 years ago, when communism was still perceived as a threat, and takes its title from a fictional clandestine mission by Britain's MI5 intelligence service to sponsor writers espousing the Cold Warrior cause.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue November 6, 2012

'Flight Behavior' Weds Issues To A Butterfly Narrative

Luis Acosta AFP/Getty Images

Barbara Kingsolver's commitment to literature promoting social justice runs so deep that in 1998 she established the Bellwether Prize (now the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction) to encourage it.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue September 25, 2012

'All Gone' Offers Disappointing Take On Hot Topic

Courtesy of Riverhead Books

The best memoirs transcend the strictly personal. New York Times columnist Alex Witchel's book All Gone, about one of the hottest topics among baby boomers — caring for our aging parents — comes across as boomerish in a bad way: self-absorbed and immature, as if she's the first to suffer this sort of stress and loss.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Wed September 5, 2012

How Christopher Hitchens Faced His Own 'Moratality'

Christopher Hitchens, who died in December 2011 from complications related to esophageal cancer, was a columnist for Vanity Fair, and the author of Hitch-22 and God Is Not Great.
Brooks Kraft Corbis

Originally published on Wed September 5, 2012 8:55 am

When a consummately articulate, boundlessly bold journalist stricken with stage 4 esophageal cancer reports from the front lines about facing what he calls, among other things, "hello darkness my old friend," you sit up and pay attention. Mortality, by virtue of its ultimate unavoidability, raises questions about the very meaning of life, making it as challenging a subject as any tackled by Christopher Hitchens in his brilliant career. It is, in fact, one of the subjects, right up there with love, and you can count on Hitchens to eschew weak-kneed sentimentality.

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Book Reviews
8:26 am
Thu August 30, 2012

Haves And Have-Nots In 'NW' London

Zadie Smith is the author of White Teeth and On Beauty.
Dominique Nabokov Penguin Group

Some postal codes encapsulate a socioeconomic profile in tidy shorthand: 10021 for Manhattan's tony Upper East Side, NW6 and NW10 for London's racially mixed, resolutely ungentrified northwest quadrant. Zadie Smith's London birthplace — a major wellspring of her work — is the setting of NW, her ambitious though somewhat dilatory fourth novel, which tackles issues of fortune and failure, class and ethnicity, and the often guilt-inducing and sometimes blurry lines between them.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue August 21, 2012

'Winter Journal': Paul Auster On Aging, Mortality

Paul Auster is the author of fiction including The New York Trilogy and In the Country of Last Things.
Lotte Hansen Picador

Originally published on Tue August 21, 2012 3:13 pm

"You think it will never happen to you," Paul Auster writes about aging and mortality in Winter Journal, penned during the winter of 2011, when he turned 64. Thirty years ago, Auster followed several volumes of poetry with The Invention of Solitude, an unconventional, profoundly literary meditation on life, death and memory triggered in part by the sudden death of his remote father and in part by the breakup of his first marriage to the short story writer Lydia Davis.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue August 14, 2012

Screwball Satire With A Warm Heart In 'Bernadette'

What happens when a talented, Type A, hyperachieving woman married to an even more successful man quits working? In former television writer Maria Semple's experience — which she's channeled into her first two novels — the mood swings, loss of bearings, and toxic dissatisfaction aren't pretty, though she plays them for laughs.

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Critics' Lists: Summer 2012
7:03 am
Tue July 17, 2012

Laughing Matters: Five Funny Books With Substance

Harriet Russell

Originally published on Tue July 17, 2012 8:56 am

It's great to laugh, but so much of what is labeled "entertainment" is, well, toothless. I'm a carnivore where my humor is concerned — I want it to have meat and bite. The following books will give you plenty to chew on if you like a bit of nourishment along with your kicks.

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