PositiveToronto Star (CAN)Stella Maris is certainly a more open-ended book, and it’s an openness that casts a shadow back ... McCarthy’s bleak vision is tragic but not depressing, as it’s driven by an ambitious sense of experimentation and engagement with the American literary tradition that few writers today would dare, much less be capable of. And if it’s to be his final chapter it’s fitting he avoids signing off on a climactic note, preferring to watch the sun go down in style.
MixedThe Toronto Star (CAN)The business with the plane is a MacGuffin, an excuse to present a scrapbook of McCarthy’s folksy, faux-Biblical philosophizin’ about love and death and fate...The characters all sound pretty much the same ... Some readers will find this pretentious to the point of hilarity, but fans of McCarthy will eat it up. And to give the master his due, he’s very good at it. Weaving together rhythmically spare but ornately dictioned descriptions of life in survival mode gives his writing a texture that’s as much a signature as his apocalyptic visions of a universe collapsing into moral and informational entropy.
Emily St. John Mandel
PositiveToronto Star (CAN)Mandel is an easy read and the structure of the story, broken up into bite-size chunks, makes all the jumping about feel relaxed. Also enjoyable is the fact that the different settings seem so contemporary. No matter where or when we touch down we feel at home in worlds much like our own, with the same family dynamics, obsessive relationships and professional crises. Which may be the point she’s getting at: we’re all, and will always be, part of a larger human story.
PositiveThe Toronto Star (CAN)[B]oyagoda isn’t interested in writing a modern version of the Comedy, on the order of what James Joyce did with Homer in Ulysses. He’s telling a story of redemption, but not following any formal model laid down by Dante, or even alluding to the Comedy much beyond a few obvious winks. Still, given the precedent being invoked it’s clear Boyagoda set himself a challenge, and it’s one that he’s up to.
PositiveThe Toronto Star (CAN)It’s a bit artificial, as is the cutting back and forth between the events Grace remembers from his life on Earth and what’s happening now on board the spaceship (which he shares with an alien he calls Rocky), but once you get started it’s a hard book to put down. And even educational.
MixedToronto StarAs you should also expect from a book like this, Obama is very much concerned with presenting his legacy in the best possible light ... As the author of two previous memoirs, Obama is a practised, observant writer with an important story to tell. One thing you should not expect, however, are any great revelations, inside scoops or dramatic fireworks ... till, you don’t have to read far between the lines to pick up what he really thinks of some of the personalities he had to deal with. One can tell he has genuine respect for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, but thought French president Nicolas Sarkozy a lightweight and Sen. Lindsey Graham a weasel. Stephen Harper, our former Canadian prime minister, is only mentioned in passing. This country did not seem to occupy much, if any, of Obama’s attention; at least it doesn’t in this memoir.
PositiveThe Toronto StarExposition is Stephenson’s métier ... these discursions are never a drag on the story. Stephenson’s lecturing has the same energy and imagination as his descriptions of nail-biting action. He is as informative as he is entertaining when dealing with just about any subject ... Stephenson has never been one to shy away from epic undertakings. And with Fall coming in at nearly 900 pages, he’s again given himself room to approach his subject from many directions: scientific, social, political, economic, religious and philosophical.
PositiveThe Toronto Star... a thought-provoking book, but also fun ... And yet for all of its lightness and whimsy, there’s something a little sad about this postmodern Prometheus. Victor isn’t trying to create life but prolong it, while the fantasy of escaping one’s body, however fashionable a dream it may be in today’s tech circles, is both childish and narcissistic. We imagine the Frankenstein we want, but in doing so end up with the one we deserve.
RaveThe StarChiang’s stories operate a bit like speculative essays, though they’re a lot more fun than that sounds. Few authors working today are as good at exploring our intimate connection to technology. In The Lifecycle of Software Objects, he gives us what may be the best look yet at what it means to fall in love with an artificial intelligence, with all of the feelings of responsibility and dependency that love entails ... It’s a short step in a Chiang story from the everyday to the bizarre: a time-travel portal or a fidget-like toy may equally teach us profound truths about ourselves. Truths we may conclude we’re better off not knowing
PanThe Toronto Star... an assemblage of fascinating ideas and themes that don’t all fit together. While not an overly complex novel, it covers a lot of ground and has a tendency to ramble ... Within this gangly narrative framework, McEwan riffs on politics, technology, justice, relationships and the philosophy of consciousness. Some of this is intriguing, but more often it feels like a series of loosely connected talking points. The moral examination McEwan has always excelled at is still here but diluted into water-cooler fiction.
PositiveToronto StarDiarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life,...gives us new insights into these much-examined lives... also present us with early examples of a now cautionary figure: the political climber who transforms his world only to tragically crash and burn ... Historical biographies face two dangers: that of having not enough information, leading to speculation, or having too much, leading to the seemingly endless recitation of dates, names, and other facts. MacCulloch’s life of Cromwell has to deal with both: moving from a youth and young adulthood we can only partially reconstruct to a time in office that is very well documented, albeit still open to some interpretation ... MacCulloch gives us a fresh perspective on the always enjoyable Tudor horror show, and makes the case for how important a figure Cromwell was in effecting a revolution in English government.
RaveThe Toronto StarWhen Iain Reid’s debut novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things came out in 2016 its over-the-top psycho-thriller plot drew a number of apt and complimentary comparisons to the films of M. Night Shyamalan. These are likely to continue with the publication of Foe, a very similar but deeper work ... Both Shyamalan and Reid are masters of suspense. Foe reads like a house on fire, and is almost impossible not to finish in one sitting ... You know that twists are coming, but they’re not easy to figure out. Only when it’s over, and you have time to catch your breath ... If Foe were just a thriller it would be a catchy beach read, but it’s not a book without further layers ... an otherworldly hothouse of introversion and fantasy.
PositiveThe StarThese books aren’t epitaphs so much as guidebooks to where we’ve been and where we may be going.
RaveThe Toronto StarAnd so we have Trumpocracy: an angry assessment by a die-hard 'Never Trumper' of what Trump’s use and abuse of power is doing to America’s political culture ... There is much to pick over in the analysis, with many valuable insights and observations ... Why have so many people in positions of responsibility and authority caved in so quickly and completely to Trumpism? Frum’s answer is institutional: they didn’t want to alienate the angry and resentful Republican base and they needed Trump to rubber-stamp their agenda ... If Frum’s book is more concerned with the big picture, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury goes in the other direction.
PositiveThe Toronto StarOne doesn’t read an Amis essay to be convinced of anything, and when he does go down this road he rarely succeeds. In fact, one can come away from reading The Rub of Time feeling that he’s quite wrong about a lot of things and that he holds many of his loudest and most entrenched opinions on faith alone ... Instead of argument, the essays are driven by their penetrating precision of observation. Amis isn’t one for always catching the feeling motivating people or events, but he has a gift for seeing into things — even, or especially, when dealing with subtle matters of style. Hence his fascination not only with authors but politicians and celebrities. This power of observation may also be why Amis’s essays have a directness and descriptive strength that his fiction often lacks.
RaveThe Toronto Star...a multi-layered hybrid of a novel strengthened by several different bloodlines ... In some ways The Blinds resembles M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, with layers of mystery enfolding the town and its history that are only gradually revealed. Also like Shyamalan’s movie are the many rapid-fire and bizarre plot twists that come at the end. On a deeper level, The Blinds is a novel that asks interesting questions about how our memories make us who we are ... These philosophical questions are secondary, however, to the busy, action-filled plot. The Blinds is first and foremost a fun read, or really about half-a-dozen reads rolled together in one.
Bandi, Trans. by Deborah Smith
PositiveThe Toronto StarBandi is a realistic writer, but from a twenty-first century Western perspective it may seem like he’s describing some dark fantasy set in Mordor, or a futuristic dystopia ... The stories, written between 1989 and 1995, constitute a passionate J’accuse: a political polemic written against North Korea’s communist dictatorship ... The stories make it painfully clear how awful life in North Korea is, with grinding poverty and an economy that at times seems little advanced from the Stone Age. Key themes are the family divided against itself, a world turned upside-down, and false appearance (or propaganda) vs. reality ... The Accusation is an angry book, composed in 'pure indignation,' but it shines a necessary light on what remains one of the darkest places on Earth.
Omar El Akkad
PositiveThe Toronto StarThis is not a comforting political message for Americans, whose homeland has largely remained free of the chaos and bloodshed experienced by other nations in the modern age. But comfort is exactly what El Akkad is writing against. Sarat sees safety as 'just another kind of violence — a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?' What if it happened here? American War asks us to imagine the uncomfortable.
Robert Charles Wilson
PositiveThe Toronto StarWilson is less interested in how the Mirror operates (which remains a mystery) than he is in the ways now and then interact. This is dramatized in the relationship between two security officers: one a nineteenth-century native with a checkered past and the other a hard-nosed twenty-first century single mom. Running beneath the action-filled plot there are some provocative questions raised about progress and continuity. If the present is the product of our history, with the advent of time travel the future is also able to infect the past in moral as well as material ways.
MixedThe Toronto StarNeo-LA is like a giant Comic-Con event, full of weirdly-costumed characters with funny names. The plot matches up well, being complex without any single focus, skipping among dozens of different players who aren’t even sure who they are much less what they are doing. It’s even difficult to pin down a consistent tone, as the story is by turns mystical, comic, philosophical and political. The resulting chaos may frustrate readers looking for something more conventional, but for those preferring abrupt, discontinuous, cinematic forms of narrative (Tolkin is best known for his work in film), NK3 will be just the ticket.
RaveThe Toronto StarMishra covers a lot of ground in Age of Anger, linking together the various forms discontent has taken — from Romanticism to terrorism — and weaving them into a truly global view. The result is an essential and sobering read. A belief in progress, or just a hope that things might get better at some point in the future, is a cornerstone of our civilization. But many today are losing that faith, and not without reason. Seeing progress as a cheat and an unrealizable fantasy, they want to put the machine into reverse. If they can’t share the gains, then they at least want the pain to be felt by everyone. Mishra sees this as a real problem, as we no longer live in a world that is capable of satisfying all of the dreams of material progress and individual empowerment it has raised. Which means the age of anger is going to get angrier yet.