RaveThe Maine Edge... the product of a master at work. Haruki Murakami is one of the finest examiners of the human condition of his or any other literary generation. The fact that he folds those examinations into tales that are quietly magical or broadly absurd or both only enhances their impact. This is a man whose prose is exquisitely crafted and whose ideas are beautifully formed ... The remarkable thing about Murakami – well, one of the many remarkable things, anyway—is his ability to evoke the mysticism and mundanity of life at the same time. These are delicate provocations of the imagination, stories of quickly-consumed deliciousness that somehow continue to expand even after you’ve gone on. These are stories that linger in the best possible way, with flashes of imagery and snippets of dialogue continuing to reappear in your perception even after days have passed ... Another remarkable book from a remarkable writer.
RaveThe Maine EdgeSchanoes wields her razor-sharp craft like a scalpel, carving every one of these pieces into something distinct and idiosyncratic and undeniably powerful. Intellectually challenging and emotionally intense, it’s a collection packed tight with highlights ... There’s a lot to dig about this book, but one of the most immediately striking things one notices upon finishing is the fact that the stories are somehow wide-ranging AND clearly related. They each operate under their own individual parameters while also sharing DNA. Like any family, there are outliers that nevertheless share similarities. Burning Girls and Other Stories also has that quality that marks the best short fiction collections—a compulsive readability. Each story is so provocative and so satisfyingly concluded that the reader almost can’t help turning the page and diving into the next.
RaveThe Maine EdgeThe book strikes a fine balance, going into enough depth with the science to engage intellectually while never forgetting the fundamental fun that comes with this sort of speculation (the Douglas Adams allusion of the title is undoubtedly intentional). Dr. Kershenbaum gives the impression of a scientist and academic who has managed to maintain his sense of wonder, making him an ideal creator for this sort of work. He takes his flights of fancy, to be sure—and a work like this needs those flights—but even when he sails into the clouds, his feet remain firmly planted upon a foundation of sound scientific thought. Again, it’s all guesswork, but it would be difficult to find a more educated guesser than Kershenbaum ... a pop science delight, a book unafraid to have fun with its premise even as it refuses to lower its expectations of its audience ... this is as thoughtful and engaging a set of hypotheses you’re likely to find on the subject.
RaveThe Maine Edge\"What King has given us is a book that is part coming-of-age tale, part hard-boiled crime thriller and part paranormal ghost story. It’s an ambitious blend, to be sure, but one that King has long since shown capable of pulling off beautifully. His clear love of noir fiction joins forces with his horror bona fides and his still-strong ability to capture the fundamental truths about being a child, resulting in a lean and propulsive read ... Later offers the reader a chance to share a boy’s journey to young adulthood, a journey that is both typical and atypical. Yes, we get the moments of terror for which King is so rightfully well-known. And yes, we get stretches of more hard-boiled prose, elements of crime thriller. But at its heart, this is a story about how scary it is to grow up—and when King tells THOSE kinds of stories, he is at his very best ... That narrative relentlessness remains one of the very best parts of reading Stephen King. Better than any of his contemporaries, King is able to ensnare you with his stories, entangling your imagination with his own and pulling you inexorably into the tale he chooses to tell. He’s quick to land his hook, and once he does, well … just let him reel you in.
PositiveThe Maine EdgeHawke has crafted an engaging work of literary autofiction, a story clearly drawn directly from his own personal experiences, yet rendered in such a way as to not feel bound to his life as it was lived. It’s something that many writers – many talented writers – fail to pull off, but he manages it quite deftly ... This tale of an actor struggling with his shifting reality – moving from a world of movie stardom to the Broadway stage, torn between accepting his crumbling marriage and striving to reassemble it – and making sometimes questionable choices in the process is tightly woven and densely packed, a meditation on masculinity and the value – both external and internal – of the redemption he seeks through his art ... The more personal side of the narrative – William’s gradual acclimation to the idea of his marriage truly ending – is just as engaging, but a little less fun ... It comes to life – all of it – through the telling. Hawke manages to treat the various excesses of the situation frankly while never making things overly sordid. His obvious love for the stage is infectious and accurate, as is his affection for the sorts who populate that world.
PositiveThe Maine EdgeIt’s a story of mankind’s attempt to stave off the extinction-level event heading their way, all while dealing with the harsh reality of what it might mean when the fact that the end is nigh becomes widely known. It’s a taut, thrilling story of people committed to saving the world even as the world turns against itself ... The Effort is a bit of a paradox, an undeniably bleak tale that still somehow contains small moments of hopefulness. Telling the story of a mission whose best-case scenario is one where only most of the world is in ruins is an obvious challenge – unrelenting darkness and despair is no way to go through life ... Yet Holroyde manages to do it while still leaving a few cracks through which light might shine. Not huge cracks, mind you. Not deus ex machina-sized cracks. Human-sized cracks that allow room for small happinesses in the face of massive disaster. As you might imagine, there’s a propulsive quality to The Effort. The narrative is infused with an inevitability, one accentuated by the author’s decision to include a tag in each chapter heading that indicates just how many days we are from the end of everything. Those tags only add to the steady undercurrent of urgency that flows through the entire story, an omnipresent tension that the reader only really notices on the rare occasions that Holroyde decides to let them breathe ... It’s a taut page-turner of a read, narratively engaging and compulsively readable. Ultimately, your biggest effort with The Effort will be putting it down.
RaveThe Maine EdgeUnfolding in two distinct storylines – one past, one present – the book explores what it means to trust wholly in something that ultimately proves unreliable, either through one’s own actions or the actions of another. It is also a celebration of language and the people who devote their lives to studying and recording its many iterations. All that and it’s wildly funny as well. Plus, you might learn something ... A Liar’s Dictionary was the first book with a 2021 publication date that I read this year. I can only hope that it is indicative of the quality of work that I will experience going forward, because it is sharply smart, dryly funny and wonderfully written. If you love words and the mysteries behind them, then you’ll likely enjoy this book as much as I did.
RaveThe Maine Edge... thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny ... By viewing the world through the lens shaped by the titular event, Lethem peels back the layers and gives us a glimpse of what we might try to put together if everything fell apart ... The Arrest is a sprawling story of the post-apocalypse, an interesting exploration of the idea that rather than some sort of all-encompassing dystopia, people would simply end up wherever they happened to be when the end arrived ... Lethem’s considerable talent for adapting and subverting speculative tropes is apparent throughout this book, so it’s no surprise that he’s able to come up with an interesting post-apocalyptic landscape, one that completely blows up the expectations two decades of sci-fi have laid out for us. He’s got a knack for flawed characters, too ... All of this comes together in a narrative that embraces the insularity of its setting while also capturing the scale of the catastrophe. The Arrest is a speculative wonder, a joyfully shaggy and unapologetic page-turner of a tale. It is that rare work that manages to be both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time, somehow evoking all sides of what happens after the end. Simultaneously a celebration and condemnation of human nature, it’s a compelling read from one of his generation’s finest writers.
RaveThe Maine Edge... an assemblage of excellence, 10 short works that captivate and confound. These stories are surreal and absurd even as they uncover certain realities – harsh and otherwise – about the Mexican experience ... It’s rare to encounter fiction that functions effectively both as commentary and as pure narrative, but these stories do just that. They are weird and visceral and deliberately difficult to define, but each of them has the power to work its way into your imagination. Funny and poignant, driven by moments of hilarity and sadness and fury, Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino is an exceptional reading experience ... There isn’t a dud in the bunch. Herbert a gift for the challenging and the evocative – images and ideas alike. In the space of just a few sentences, he crafts whole worlds, populating them with idiosyncratic idealogues and idiot idealists. He uses these strange situations and stranger characters to address some of the very real issues of Mexican life. Poverty, drugs, corruption – all viewed through the distorted fluidity of Herbert’s finely-honed storytelling lunacy ... It’s also worth noting that, while it can be difficult to discern the impact of a translator on the work being translated, there’s little doubt that MacSweeney has done right by Herbert – the wit, the energy, the insight are all front and center. A great translator is one who does not leave their prints behind, and as far as that goes, MacSweeney is a ghost ... short fiction at its finest. Julian Herbert is unafraid to push boundaries with his storytelling, resulting in a collection of pieces that aren’t quite like anything I’ve ever read. Ten gems, each possessed of their own unique sparkle and shape – a precious and worthwhile collection.
MixedThe Maine EdgeA Very Punchable Face is a solid read. There are some funny stories, to be sure ... Jost does well in capturing some of the day-to-day reality of life as an “SNL” writer; the behind-the-scenes writers’ room stuff is interesting, albeit with a familiar flavor – other books have gone deeper. And that’s ultimately the biggest issue with the book. It’s not superficiality, per se, but Jost never quite manages to get over the hump and truly let the reader in ... A Very Punchable Face isn’t going to change the celebrity memoir landscape. Jost’s book spends more time skimming the surface than we might like, rarely wading beyond waist-deep waters, but it’s an entertaining enough reading experience. If you’re a fan of Jost or SNL, you’ll enjoy yourself; if not, feel free to find someone else whose face you’d like to punch.
Ed. by Mary Pilon and Louisa Thomas
RaveThe Maine EdgeThe reasons behind their shortfalls vary—some are faced with legendary opposition, while others simply deal with a bad day or bad luck—but all of them find ways to reflect the impact of almost. Some of these stories are funny, while others are sad and still others inspire, but all of them together paint a portrait of the truth behind loss. It’s a compelling journey through the competitive landscape, with all manner of sport and athlete represented. Considering the wide range of subjects covered, different readers will find different stories more engaging ... Losers is packed with insight; each essay brings a new and different perspective to the idea of losing. These stories aren’t the sort of triumphant tales that are inspired by victory, but the truth is that most stories of winning are markedly similar ... there’s a real empathy inspired by these pieces, whether we’re talking about Olympic gymnasts or heavyweight boxers or aging bullfighters. It’s about acknowledging that there’s a flip side to every victory and that there is value to those stories as well.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a sharp and satiric continuation, yet it also manages to largely stand on its own – a relative rarity for genre series ... It’s smart sci-fi that delights in playing dumb, hiding sophisticated ideas and themes behind bizarre set pieces and all manner of creative profanity. It’s also a rip-roarer of an adventure tale, packed with high-concept twists and turns. All in all, it’s a hell of a lot of fun ... What’s so surprising about Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick is how smart it is. I mean, there’s a reference to dick-punching right there in the title – and to be fair, there’s plenty of action and humor that fits squarely with that sentiment – but underneath all the science-fictional trappings, there’s some pretty heady stuff ... We’re talking about thoughtful explorations of the nature of gaming communities and society’s current trend toward celebrity worship and the toxicity of the self-styled men’s rights movement – all of it unspooled by way of a crisply-written, over-the-top genre adventure. Oh, and it’s really funny to boot. Wong’s got jokes, for sure, but he also has a strong grasp of situational comedy as well. It all adds up to a dynamite reading experience ... something different, high-concept ideas in lowbrow clothing. It’s a read that’ll work on whatever level you want it to, opening the door to deeper insight while also operating as straightforward comic sci-fi. Basically, if you want David Wong to punch your brain in the dick, you should check this one out.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a slim volume that takes a look at what it might mean for our precarious and codependent relationship to technology to be unceremoniously ripped away, leaving nothing but the quiet echo of our own thoughts. How has this proliferation of tech impacted our ability to engage with one another – and are we able to get back what was lost ... a lightning-fast read – just 128 pages – but no less engaging for its brevity. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking, a quick-hit of a novel one assumes is intended to mirror the bite-sized rapid consumption encouraged by our current relationship to media both old and new ... [Delillo] manages to evoke the fearfulness that comes with lack of connection and communication ... Nobody does low-key existential dread and creeping paranoia quite like DeLillo, which is a handy skill set to have when we’re talking about society’s difficulties with adjusting to the exponential explosion of technological growth ... he chooses to focus on the aimlessness that sets in when we lose our tether to the world as we understand it ... The Silence feels very much like a COVID-19 novel, despite being written beforehand. It’s a story of losing connection, of losing the ability to communicate with one another, of being left alone by a crisis that has no end in sight. Its relevance to the moment is accidental, but no less impactful because of that.
RaveThe Maine EdgeThree-Ring Circus is unwavering in laying out the realities of these relationships, warts and all. Whether it was the on-court struggles for dominance or the off-court controversies—including Bryant’s 2003 sexual assault arrest—Pearlman digs deep and shines a light on it all. Pearlman’s ability to narratively engage while also executing top-notch reportage is what makes all of his books such worthwhile reads—this latest effort is no different. One of the many striking things about this book is the vividness of the recollections being offered. So many of the players, coaches and administrators involved in this time have remarkably clear memories of these events ... Still, the thoroughness of the stories being recounted provides a wonderfully detailed foundation, rendering a complete picture of a uniquely weird situation—one that defined an era of NBA basketball ... a phenomenal book for any basketball fan, an outstanding and engaging deconstruction of the costs and rewards that come with the pursuit of greatness. It’s the kind of engaging sports history story at which Jeff Pearlman excels, smart and surprising and page-turningly compelling—an absolute slam dunk.
RaveThe Maine Edge... the reader is offered a glimpse at the way in which our perceptions of the world are based on a shared reality … and what happens when that shared reality is shattered in ways we don’t and can’t possibly know ... It is a thoughtful and propulsive read, a story that draws you in and asks – nay, demands – to be compulsively consumed. This is not a book about the world bearing witness to its own end, but rather about what it means to not know, to not understand, even as our faith in our world’s permanence is irrevocably and rightly shaken apart ... Alam pulls a marvelous bit of literary sleight-of-hand here. We spend the first part of the book engaged in what is almost a dramedy of manners, a deconstruction of various flavors of middle-aged angst that rings familiar to any consumer of literary fiction. We even get a racial dynamic – Amanda and Clay are white, G.H. and Ruth black – that lends a tinge of cultural complexity to the situation ... Then, the author flips the script, dropping these two families into the midst of an unclear crisis ... While the delicate narrative gymnastics are impressive enough, there’s even more to the experience ... Alam has a deft confidence with regard to his characters, rendering them as full and complex individuals with a quickly-sketched ease. All of them spring from the page in a matter of a few sentences, fully-formed, flaws and all. That rapidity opens the door for both narrative acceleration and thematic exploration; we know who these people are immediately, their beliefs and biases laid out for us all to see ... Then, of course, there’s the weaponized ambiguity that Alam wields throughout. Without it, we wouldn’t get the sense of creeping dread and fear and paranoia lurking just beneath the surface of it all. And ultimately, it becomes clear that not only do they not know what’s happening, they will NEVER know – for them, at least, the mystery will never be truly solved ... Too often, literature allows itself to be bound by convention and tropes. Rumaan Alam takes a different approach with Leave the World Behind, choosing instead to give us a blending and bending of ideas, moving in one direction before pivoting to another and blurring the lines between them, setting the compass needle to spinning and rewriting the lines on the map to create something quite different from what you’ve experienced before. Loud or quiet, large or small – every ending is its own.
RaveThe Maine EdgeChang is brutally honest and forthcoming about his up-and-down fight against depression and his ongoing struggles with anger management. It’s a success story that features plenty of misfires. The one constant throughout is a deep-seated and genuine love of cooking, both in terms of culinary exploration and cultural storytelling ... isn’t your usual celebrity memoir; Chang proves to be brutally honest about many of his own shortcomings. He celebrates his successes, of course, but he is also forthcoming about his failures. And his willingness to speak frankly about his mental health struggles is especially welcome; even now, there’s a stigma that comes with those kinds of conversations. His feelings of otherness, of being an outsider no matter where he was, come through with a heartbreaking clarity ... He’s also a hell of a storyteller, a gifted and charming raconteur who breathes enthusiastic life into his tales – culinary and otherwise. Chang’s ability to capture the intensity of life in the kitchen makes Eat a Peach a fiery and compelling read. We also get a glimpse of the business side of things, a sausage-making aspect of restaurant entrepreneurialism that isn’t often fully reckoned with in memoirs like this ... The book closes with an absolutely dynamite section titled simply \'33 Rules for Becoming a Chef.\' It is a frank, thoughtful and hilarious dissection of the realities of becoming a chef, packed with good advice. Chang is unafraid of dealing in harsh realities; at times, it borders on the antagonistic. But it all springs from a place of honest love and affection for the vocation. As with the rest of the book, Chang’s combination of genuine affection and deep-running pessimism regarding the craft is prominent ... a delight, a book that will prove fascinating to anyone interested in the culinary world. Chang’s honesty and humor are just two of the many quality ingredients that make up the recipe for this delicious reading. Whether you’re a full-on foodie or simply a Food Network junkie, you’ll want to dig into this one.
RaveThe Maine EdgeThe titular character more than rises to the occasion, sharing the story of the impossible place in which he lives in a manner that is both overtly and subtly untrustworthy. And when you put that in the sort of lush and vividly-realized fantastical setting that Clarke creates, well … you’ve got something pretty special ... an immersive book, a story whose distinct voice quickly captures your mind’s ear. Piranesi is one of those characters that clarifies themselves IMMEDIATELY; we’re in his head in a matter of a few sentences, charmed by his naivete and slightly off-kilter manner of speaking and engaging with the world ... Clarke is so good at the vivid realization of place – the House is a stunning literary creation. The difficulty of what is done here can’t be overstated, this evocation of an enclosed infinity...She puts us there, in the midst of massive halls and vaulted ceilings and an unending parade of detailed sculpture; her world-building is such that we can SEE this place. It’s a rare gift ... Tonality matches setting here; both are steeped in an ever-so-slightly skewed reality, allowing the reader to slip into the seemingly still waters to experience the chaotic, conspiratorial churning just below the narrative surface. Marrying the sunny gormlessness of Piranesi to the sinister undertones of the world in which he walks makes for a compelling contrast ... a first-rate work from a first-rate writer, a wonderful and surreal romp. It reads like a pop cover of Borges, embracing aesthetic complexity in the service of exploring the ethics of exploration – all in just a couple hundred pages. Susanna Clarke is as good as it gets as far as wedding literary and genre conceits in her fiction; this is another example of her considerable abilities, one that is well worth the 16-year wait. You can take my word for it.
RaveThe Maine Edge... an ugly and compelling look at the horror and violence lurking beneath the veneer, illustrating the notion that we never really comprehend what people are capable of – even those we think we know ... Some of that might ring a little vague, which is very much by design – many of the plot specifics in The Invention of Sound will be far more effective without prior knowledge. Fret not, because you’ll be dropped into the unsettling viscerality of it all very quickly and you’ll be grateful for the opportunity to experience it without expectation ... As per usual with Palahniuk, things get a little queasy from time to time. He has never shied away from ideas and imagery designed to churn the stomach and chill the blood; The Invention of Sound finds plenty of opportunities for the author to indulge his talents and affinities for that kind of challenging evocation. And those talents are considerable – his tight-yet-florid writing style allows him to create these moments of intense unpleasantness without numbing his audience or descending into schlock. No one crafts splatter quite like Chuck Palahniuk ... is gross and weird and meta and darkly funny – the kind of work we’ve come to expect from Pahlaniuk. Smart and subversive, the book manages to take aim at some of the author’s familiar targets and maintain the old transgressive energy while also bringing something new to the table. A fast read that nevertheless lingers in the consciousness.
RaveThe Maine EdgeFor stretches, it is pure memoir—and first-rate memoir at that. Arsenault’s accounts of her life, both in Mexico and in her years away, are mesmerizing. Evoking that particular flavor of small-town Maine life is difficult to do with any sort of verisimilitude; even those who have lived it can’t always manage. Arsenault has no such problem, crafting a portrait that is fiercely proud and beautiful, peeling paint and all. In other places, the book is a compelling and taut work of industrial investigation. Arsenault is meticulous in her research, ultimately building a warts-and-all look at the history of the mill. Good, bad and ugly are presented, all of it with receipts ... Arsenault’s narrative moves with steady relentlessness, pressing ever forward. There’s a sense of constant motion to the prose, even as it relates to the relative stagnation of the place itself ... Mill Town is haunting and heartbreaking, charming and funny … and utterly exceptional.
RaveThe Maine EdgeEmma Cline can WRITE ... She has a compelling, captivating voice and a real knack for crafting engaging narratives ... There’s a palpable hurt at the core of these stories, a recognition of the pain that is seemingly always a heartbeat away ... There’s a real disconnect between what we believe we want and what we’re willing to do to get it; Cline’s understanding of the fundamental contrarianism that comes with these warring impulses is one of her most significant gifts as a storyteller ... These stories are unsettling and engrossing, packed with character complexity and dark, cutting wit. Each piece bears up under its own weight even as it serves as part of the larger whole of the collection, though the steady drumbeat of Cline’s tone and thematic choices throughout can border on overwhelming ... A worthy and worthwhile collection from a writer for whom the sky really is the limit.
RaveThe Maine Edge... smart, surprisingly funny ... an accessible and engaging work of pop science, one that finds a way to strike a balance between the intricate physics and mathematics that go into these explorations and an easy narrative tonality that allows even those without PhDs to wrap their heads around these big-by-definition ideas. Consider this a crash course in cosmic eschatology, a sort of End Of It All 101. It is informative and entertaining in the way that only the very best science writing can be ... Mack is so unwaveringly passionate about her subject that the reader can’t help but be pulled in by the sheer gravity of her enthusiasm ... All of this is elevated by the fact that Mack is genuinely funny – even her groaners (of which there are a few) will elicit a chuckle, reluctant though it might be. She has found ways to make room for that humor even as she’s offering up real insight into complicated physical and mathematical phenomena, doing so in such a way as to ensure that it all fits together without ever feeling forced. Cosmology and astrophysics, yes, but also stuff like quantum mechanics and string theory and a whole assortment of other areas of high-level thought. Anyone who has ever read this kind of mainstream academic nonfiction knows just how hard that is to pull off, yet Mack manages it with seeming ease ... science writing for the masses in the best possible way, a book that simplifies some staggeringly complex ideas without ever condescending to its audience. Its casual tone and charming good humor allow us to fully engage with the intricacies – both large and small – of this fascinating subject.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a marvelous puzzle box of a book that spans centuries and offers more than one way to consume its compelling story ... Epic in scope, spanning a century and a half and featuring a cast of characters that is somehow both sprawling and small, Crossings is that relatively rare experiment in form that doesn’t sacrifice substance in the name of style. It’s conceptually cool, of course, but it’s also beautifully written and one hell of a riveting tale ... These pieces play off one another beautifully, standing on their own but intricately intertwined as well. That intricacy is on full display once one ventures down the road of the Baroness sequence, giving the reader a story that is no less entrancing even as they bounce around the book ... This book somehow works equally well in both respects in which it can be consumed, telling similar yet distinct versions of this tale. Connections beget connections as the complexity of the web being woven expands almost exponentially. It’s a remarkable feat of literary acumen, the writerly equivalent of juggling chainsaws on a high wire. In short, it’s impressive as hell ... isn’t just a parlor trick. It’s a story about the nature of the soul and the strength of love, a story about stories and the power of storytelling. It’s a literary mystery and a rip-roaring adventure. It’s far more than just its device, with plenty of steak to go with the sizzle ... A big part of what makes this book work so marvelously is the verisimilitude of the period settings. Landragin is clearly a gifted researcher, having thoroughly cobbled together vividly detailed portraits of such varied spots as wartime Paris and a tiny South Pacific island; the richness practically leaps off the page. Having constructed such bounteous backgrounds, the deep-seated complexity of his characters can be fully unleashed ... And oh, what characters! Whether we’re talking about the secret life of a noted historical figure or the fully invented multi-generational journey of a body-hopping soul, every single person we meet is possessed of an engaging dimensional depth. They are full-bodied and tangible. They breathe ... one of the most engaging and thought-provoking that I’ve read in some time.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a wonderful read, a piece of engaging experiential nonfiction reminiscent of the participatory work of George Plimpton. Konnikova’s prose gifts are on full display throughout, capturing vivid snapshots of the poker world – moments seedy and sublime alike. She also does incredible work in making her personal journey accessible; anyone who has ever sought to learn something new will see reflections of their own quest in these pages ... We spend lots of time with Seidel, a fascinating dude who becomes invested in Konnikova’s success even as he continues his own work as one of the world’s best players. He’s not the only poker person we meet, though – there’s a wonderfully weird cast of characters sprinkled throughout the book ... In terms of poker storytelling, The Biggest Bluff is probably the best we’ve seen since James McManus’s incredible Positively Fifth Street. Even making the comparison borders on heresy, considering the esteem in which that book is held, but I’d argue that what Konnikova has done here might even be its equal. A different sort of story, but one that is just as compelling ... a hell of a book. Anyone who has ever sat down at a poker table will love this tale of beneficial breaks, bad beats and yes, big bluffs. It’s the literary equivalent of pocket aces with two more on the flop – the absolute nuts.
RaveThe Maine EdgeIt’s a sweeping psychedelic story, an alternate pop history that features a slew of famous and familiar names crossing the paths of our heroes in the course of their ascent. It’s a brightly colored and brutal fable that is equal parts celebration and warning regarding the raw power inherent to music. The pull of creative forces can sometimes be beyond our control, leaving the creator no choice but to hang on tight and hope for the best—a best that is far from guaranteed ... While the book doesn’t necessarily offer the physical scope of some of his other work, in terms of metaphysical scope, it’s spot-on ... It’s an engaging portrait of that particular period, a stylized snapshot of the scene. The hyperrealized cameos from real-life music figures are a delight ... Utopia Avenue evokes the spirit of the ‘60s while leaning into its own vision of the time and place. It’s a deconstruction of the pursuit of fame—the thrill of the chase and the chaos that comes with success.
PositiveThe Maine Edge... bleak and unrelenting ... a provocative and challenging book, one that offers a particular perspective of the slippery slope that is institutional control of bodily autonomy. It is tense and thrilling, combining in-depth character study with just the right amount of background. And while the setting is a speculative future, the woman on the run narrative is one that transcends its genre framework ... You might be tempted to view Blue Ticket through the nigh-ubiquitous lens of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale– and make no mistake, there are definitely similarities in both substance and style – but the world that Mackintosh has created is very much its own thing. It’s a far more secular book, largely devoid of overt religious overtones and instead extrapolating out an ostensibly just bureaucratic system driven by a sterile misogyny ... Often, speculative fiction has a tendency to overexplain. There’s an understandable temptation toward info-dump exposition, but most of the time, it just serves as unnecessary handholding that pulls the reader away from the narrative. Mackintosh displays little interest in that sort of shepherding, opting instead to focus on the journey; we learn everything we need to know about this world through the eyes of the characters as they engage with it – the author is deliberate in making sure we get some understanding of what it means to feel you’re on the wrong side from BOTH sides. A little ambiguity never hurt anyone, and the truth is that it’s more fun when we get to fill in some of the margins with our own imaginations ... Mackintosh is also a propulsive storyteller. It’s easy to mine tension from a chase or a confrontation, but she turns routine doctor visits and phone calls into taut nail-biters. And she’s created someone fascinating in Calla; so much of the book’s power comes from our look inside her head as she struggles with the conflicts and consequences of her choice ... a thoughtful adventure, a voyage of principle and pathos. It has big thematic ideas, but wraps them in a complicated and thrilling narrative – an engaging combination. The most interesting speculative fiction is the kind that has something meaningful to say – and this book certainly qualifies.
RaveThe Maine EdgeThe Paris Hours is a lovely and transportive piece of fiction, one that strikes a balance between the notorious glamour and everyday quietude of 1920s Paris. There’s a richness to the setting that captures the mind’s eye, showing us the glitter and the grime with equal aplomb. Intricately plotted, the book finds ways to build its characters’ interconnectedness with descriptive delicacy. Each of these individual storylines unfolds on its own; none of them actively require the presence of the others to function as fully formed, but the devil is in the details—George incorporates tiny cross-narrative signifiers that unobtrusively serve as connective tissue to guide these characters toward one another, all building to a final heartbreaking collision. Oh, the characters. Each of these four main players is a fully and beautifully realized person, complicated and flawed and fascinating ... the kind of book that almost demands to be devoured; it’s hard to avoid being swept away by the journeys undertaken by each of these regular, yet remarkable people. Evocative and smartly-paced, driven by character and historicity, it’s a fantastic read.
PositiveThe Maine EdgeThe Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes marks an interesting choice on Collins’s part. It’s a combination that you don’t often see in this sort of franchise fiction – a prequel focused on the villain as protagonist and their origins. We’re used to the good guys being the stars, particularly in the realm of YA fiction. One could argue that this new book is a bit more thematically sophisticated than the previous offerings, but ultimately, while the perspective is different, we’re still talking about teenagers forced to make adult decisions by a largely unfeeling system. It’s a bold maneuver in its way, pivoting as it does away from the iconic rebellious heroine of the original trilogy ... It is also a largely successful one ... It’s wild, having such a character in the lead. There’s an engaging frustration to it – and I mean that in a good way. He makes ethical choices for unethical reasons and vice versa. Even with the biases inherent to knowing who he becomes, we still find ourselves rooting for Snow to find his way out of the shadows and into the light ... Yes, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a bit denser, a bit heavier than previous installments. The narrative does get a little jagged in spots, with a tendency toward somewhat excessive chapter-ending cliffhangers. It’s not a perfect book by any stretch ... It is, however, quite a ripper of a read. Fans of the world that Collins has created will doubtless find much to like in this latest installment
PositiveThe Maine EdgeBy walking us through the conscious and unconscious influences that impact how baseball works, Law gives us a new perspective on the intricacies of the sport—a perspective that matches the more data-driven and analytically-inclined model followed by 21st century practitioners of the game ... an interesting dichotomy, matching Law’s undeniable baseball acumen with his more dilettante understanding of behavioral science; there are a number of ways in which this whole thing could easily have gone off the rails. However, Law maintains a firm hand, never allowing his personal levels of knowledge overly skew the conversation ... Be warned: The Inside Game definitely gets pretty wonky in spots. It is far from the traditional baseball book for sure ... Smart and savvy, The Inside Game is a gem.
PositiveThe Maine EdgeKaufman unleashed, his careening creative brilliance utterly unfettered ... It’s … a lot ... This book is a sprawling, recursive metanarrative, one unbound by literary convention ... a real workout ... n truth, there’s literally nothing straightforward about this book. Every aspect of it – the prose style, the character choices, the narrative direction – is layered and stratified. Ideas are taken out of the box and kicked around before being abandoned. Subplots meander off into the sunset, never to be seen again. In Antkind, reality is a construct and memory is a lie – both figuratively and literally ... It’s a challenging read, to be sure. Kaufman is unapologetic in the demands he places on the reader. The pace is wildly varied, moving at breakneck speed at certain points and slowing to a crawl in others. The voice of our narrator is whinging and wheedling, built upon seemingly oppositional feelings of superiority and victimhood. The real is presented as fictional and the fictional as real – except when it’s the other way around ... extremely readable; one imagines that Kaufman channeled his experiences with making the bizarre accessible on the big screen to make it so ... will not be everyone’s cup of tea. At times, it is willfully obtuse and gleefully off-putting. But there’s a vividity and viscerality to it that will prove irresistible to a certain kind of reader. It is tightly layered and unflinchingly weird, a book that sets the subconscious churning. You’ll have to put in the work, but if you do, you will be richly rewarded.
RaveThe Maine EdgeNobody does novellas like Stephen King ... a quartet of stories that are a little too long to be labelled short, all of which are packed with that uniquely King combination of fear and empathy ... One of the joys of King’s novella collections is the reminder that he, perhaps more than any of his bestselling peers, has a tremendous gift for giving stories exactly the amount of space they need to be properly told. Sometimes, that results in 700-plus page epics. Other times, just 70. Whatever it takes to get the story from his head to the page – that’s what King gives you. It’s remarkable really, that an author can create stories that cause a reader to shiver, to smile and to shed a tear in the space of a few pages – but really, should anything Stephen King does surprise us anymore? ... practically pulses with the humanistic empathy that marks the best of King’s work. It’s an outstanding quartet, featuring four tales that are wildly different from one another, yet undeniably bound together by the voice of our finest storyteller. There is much to fear in the worlds created by Stephen King, but even in the depth of his darkest shadows, a light of hope steadily glows. More exceptional work from the maestro ... Keep ‘em coming, Mr. King.
Hao Jingfang, trans. by Ken Liu
RaveThe Maine Edge... a sharp and incisive commentary on how cultural differences can skew worldviews and hinder communication. It’s also an exciting, engaging narrative, driven by detailed plotting, strong characters and some first-rate world-building. As with all great speculative fiction, the quality of the ideas and the execution are well-matched ... has a LOT to say ... The notion of an intellectual property-driven economy is extrapolated out as well, laying out possible benefits and consequences ... ideas alone aren’t enough. They need to be delivered … and boy oh boy, does Hao Jingfang deliver ... What we have here is a sophisticated interplanetary epic, driven by intrigue. The richness of detail with which this future world is constructed captivates; the realization of Mars – physically, intellectually, socially, ideologically – is particularly impactful. Descriptions of revolutionary politics commingle with well-reasoned technological projections and just the right lack of societal self-awareness ... The Terran side of things is rendered a bit more sketchily, but still more than sufficiently to make the dichotomy work effectively ... Luoying is a charming and conflicted hero, a protagonist whose own disconnect allows her to serve as an effective audience surrogate. Trapped between the two worlds, hers is more of an outsider perspective, a perfect window for the reader. The other characters that populate the story all offer something of legitimate interest; there are no throwaways or half-efforts amongst the dramatis personae ... translator Ken Liu is one of the best in the business, playing an outsized role in helping English-speaking audiences access the brilliant work that is coming out of China’s speculative fiction scene. Hao Jingfang has written an incredible book; Ken Liu has allowed me to read it ... challenging, idea-driven work. It is thoughtfully conceived and beautifully written, a remarkable opus. Hao Jingfang has folded complex themes into a propulsive narrative; this book features all the hallmarks of the best, boldest speculative fiction. It will leave you intellectually and emotionally wrung out – and you’ll be grateful for it.
RaveThe Maine EdgeIt’s a fractured, fascinating look at a teenage girl’s pursuit of understanding ... Structurally daring and prosaically deft, the narrative moves back and forth across time (though all is past from the perspective of our frank and forthright narrator), capturing the fluidity and futility of memory ... It’s also a story of the complex sociological minefield that is friendship between teenaged girls ... The Lightness walks an interesting tightrope, a coming-of-age story that deftly introduces elements of literary thriller into the mix. There’s a delicacy to the manner in which things unfurl that is really quite striking ... A clear point of comparison that has been made by a number of reviewers is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History—and it is an undeniably apt one. The truth is that this sort of dessert-first storytelling is a dangerous game, one that can undermine a narrative’s impact significantly. It’s a bold choice that Temple executes well enough that even with an extant sense of the ending, she still finds ways to surprise us.
RaveThe Maine EdgeLindley has a real gift for narrative; it’s rare for science writing—even pop science aimed at a broad audience—to be this readable and engaging. Lindley pushes us through the history of science via a handful of touchstone figures, giving us a crash course of sorts. From the early work of Galileo up through the pure-math musings of today’s physics giants, we’re along for the ride ... a compelling walk through physics history, curated and narrated by a true rarity—a gifted writer who is also a qualified scientist ... Tackling material like this is one thing; doing it while also making it accessible to the layperson is quite another. Yet this book reads easily, even when it occasionally delves into the more esoteric aspects of its subject matter.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a thoughtful and in-depth look at a hobby that has been occupying minds for over a century. Through a combination of historical research and first-person experience, Raphel takes the reader on an engaging and entertaining stroll across and down the cross-world ... It’s a rich and thorough history, one that features a number of fascinating and eccentric characters ... There’s so much here, even for those with a lengthy cruciverbalistic history ... The common thread throughout is the clear passion Raphel has for crosswords, resulting in a fun and celebratory read. She is present on every single page, her joyful love for these puzzles and the people who embrace them is palpable. The combination of historical snapshots and personal experience results in a layered and captivating piece of nonfiction.
RaveThe Maine EdgeFar from the dusty doorstop of a book you might expect, The Splendid and the Vile is an example of Larson at his best. Meticulously, exhaustively researched and told with Larson’s usual deftness of prose, this account of Churchill’s first year...is an intense close-read of the man’s life ... Thanks to Larson’s deep and thorough dive, he (and hence we) are privy to a wealth of first-hand accounts of what it was like in the room with Churchill ... a vivid and compelling look at the realities of the Blitz and the hard choices Churchill and his compatriots had to make in order to hold off the looming German threat ... The book hits the usual high points too, of course, the moments ... but they don’t receive the same sort of focus that they have in other past works ... And that’s a good thing ... Larson’s aptitude for quality storytelling is what sets him apart and makes his work so accessible—the facts are right and the research is thorough, but they work in service to the narrative rather than despite it. The result is a fascinating and electrifying read that belies its 600-plus page count; Larson hits the ground running and pulls you along. It’s not often you come across a book this big that practically demands to be read ... Larson has provided a valuable and worthwhile addition to the Churchillian canon.
RaveThe Maine EdgeThe Contact Paradox is a fascinating look at the history of SETI and the possibilities inherent to extraterrestrial contact. What Cooper does that is so engaging is address multiple aspects of the issue ... What’s so intriguing about The Contact Paradox is the way Cooper juxtaposes direct conversations about the mechanics of SETI with thoughts about human nature and how that might (or might not) translate into our engagement with aliens should we ever establish communication ... the kind of book that anyone intrigued about what (or who) might be out there among the stars needs to read. It’s a smart and concise look at SETI, the people devoted to it and the potential consequences of its success.
RaveThe Maine EdgeIt\'s...packed with an incredible depth of research and thoughtful analysis, all of it devoted to exploring the literary output of our presidents ... It’s a chance to look at these historical titans through the lens of the words they themselves put down on paper. And really, what better way to gain insight into their inner lives and thoughts? ... Through it all, Fehrman guides the reader toward an understanding of how these books both shaped and were shaped by the times in which they were written ... Authors in Chief is an absolutely absorbing read.
RaveThe Main Edge... excellent in the way that Bohjalian’s work is always excellent – smart, crisply-paced, well-plotted – but it also happens to feature a central plot point revolving around the threat of a weaponized disease. While there are essentially zero actual similarities between Bohjalian’s plot and current events, the timing of the book’s release means that the comparison is unavoidable ... once you move past that odd bit of synchronicity, you can enjoy this book for what it is – a taut and twisting work that features the intrigue and idiosyncrasy that are hallmarks of Bohjalian’s work. It is evocative and exciting, a quick and engaging read that will prove a welcome experience for fans of thrillers ... One of the joys of Bohjalian’s work is the delicate intricacy of his plotting; he has a wonderful knack for layering his storylines, switching perspectives and leaping from point to point. These shifts allow us to engage with the truly tangled web that is The Red Lotus while still keeping the characters in the dark. Not every writer is comfortable leaning into the notion that the reader can know more about what’s going on than the characters, but Bohjalian is confident enough in his talents to do just that, deftly maneuvering the narrative in such a way as to surprise us all, character and reader alike ... a globe-spanning adventure, one that combines international intrigue with the high-adrenaline, high-pressure realm of the big city emergency room. It’s a book that sets the healers against those who would do harm, the selfless against the selfish. It is sweeping and relentless in its pacing, with Bohjalian unleashing his usual well-honed dialogue. If you’re hungry for thrills, this book will feed that need.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveThe Maine Edge...a mesmerizing puzzle box of a book, one whose many interconnected parts are in seemingly constant motion, both through space and time. That sense of propulsive perpetuity creates an almost insatiable hunger in the reader; we simply can’t stop ... A work of literature that is truly special is a rare thing. Knowing that said work of literature is special even as you read it is much rarer. The Glass Hotel is an example of the latter, a book that announces itself with such triumphant confidence that you’re ready to sing its praises to the skies after just a scant handful of pages. Compelling characterizations, narrative vividity, thematic complexity – often, you’re lucky to get just two of those three, even in quality works. To have the trio represented so fully is a gift ... Mandel is a writer of many gifts; one of her greatest is the ability to breathe life into unusual settings ... We see the lifestyles of the rich and famous juxtaposed against the people eventually destroyed by those lifestyles, either directly or indirectly. And every setting – physical, emotional or both – is rendered with breathtaking clarity by Mandel ... The Glass Hotel is masterful, an elegantly constructed work of great emotional power and literary sophistication. While the narrative complexity is significant, it never once enters into the realm of convolution; every piece of the puzzle is placed just so, allowing the overall picture to appear in exactly the manner in which the author intends ... Truly a great book, one that will stay with you long after the last page is turned.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a high fantasy tale of love and loss, of the big wounds of warfare and the quiet cuts of palace intrigue ... It’s a beautiful and intricate landscape across which compelling characters stride. It’s smart and sweet and occasionally savage … and a heck of a read ... Lady Hotspur is the finest kind of fantasy, a thoughtful and evocative novel that does honor to its inspiration even as it carves out a wholly new path. Fans of fantasy, Shakespeare or just plain old solid storytelling will find plenty to like here.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a legitimately fascinating read, well-researched and packed with detail – the sort of book that will surprise and delight the intellectually curious ... Through these examples, Genuine Fakes digs deep into the notion of what is real, what is authentic … and whether it is possible for an object to be one without being the other ... Nonfiction that is both information-dense AND fun to read is rare; Lydia Pyne has given us precisely that...A book like this could easily become bone-dry, a slog of a read. But Pyne maintains an airiness throughout, treating the material with seriousness but never severity. Everything unfolds with a very light touch. The result is a book that is very difficult to put down.
RaveThe Maine Edge... darkly comic ... biting wit and a discomfiting plausibility ... There’s a dark absurdity at the heart of Zed that is reminiscent of Kafka or Pynchon, a sense of being trapped within an unfeeling system that is itself trapped by its own crumbling omnipresence. It’s a world in which the trust people place in the powers that be is rewarded with a complete disregard for their well-being on the part of those powers. It is a bleak portrait painted here. And a hilarious one. Call it a black comedy of errors, a techno-farce in which mounting misfires on the part of the centralized technology are met with little more than cosmetic changes and brandspeak. It’s a comic look at faith in the establishment gone wrong ... Kavenna’s wit is almost as omnipresent as Beetle in this book; every page offers a wry observation or dark joke that sticks in the mind’s eye. Her prose is smart and propulsive, giving her storytelling a sense of urgency even as the techno-bureaucracy spins its wheels in mud of its own making. It’s a rendition of end-game capitalism that feels unsettlingly prescient even as it makes you laugh ... an exceptional book, a novel of ideas that embraces the thoughts that it provokes while also delivering legitimate laughs. It’s funny and frightening, an unrelenting and sly satiric look at a world that feels like somewhere we could legitimately find ourselves sooner than we think.
PositiveThe Maine EdgePosnanski does a wonderful job bringing Houdini’s story together ... we also learn about Houdini through some of the people who have been inspired by him. It’s here where Posnanski really shines, these conversations with those whose love of magic was born when they learned of the great Houdini ... So many people whose lives were deeply and permanently impacted by the man himself. Posnanski gives us insight into them all, capturing all of it with his usual blend of gentle sentimentality and low-key sharp wit. The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini is a different sort of biography, one willing to view its subject through a prismatic lens; diligent research and first-person reportage allows for a diverse set of perspectives on Houdini ... Joe Posnanski has given us a unique look at a unique man, an iconic figure in American cultural history. In an irony that the man himself would almost certainly appreciate, even now, a century later, Houdini remains inescapable.
RaveThe Maine Edgea magical read, one that elicits surprised chuckles even as it tugs at the heartstrings. The motley crew – both human and animal – that it introduces is an absolute delight; McDougall clearly has a gift for fully rendering the people that he meets. The term \'inspirational\' is a loaded one when it comes to books, but it’s an apt descriptor here; the story of Sherman’s journey – and McDougall’s alongside him – does inspire, capturing the beautiful spiritual connection that exists between man and animal ... And while McDougall is at the story’s center, it is the characters at the tale’s outskirts that truly fascinate ... It’s a special thing to genuinely fall in love with someone you meet in the pages of a book. Rest assured: you can’t help but fall in love with Sherman the determined donkey. Running with Sherman is charming and hilarious, heartfelt and sincere. It’s a wonderful read for anyone who has loved an animal that needed to be loved … or has faced a challenge that seemed insurmountable but had someone there to stand (or run) alongside them.
RaveThe Maine EdgeThere aren’t many writers out there who are as thoughtfully scary as Joe Hill ... The truth is that it would be easy to expound at length upon just about every one of these stories. Hill’s narrative gifts are tremendous, and he unleashes them here to full effect. His ability to construct such sturdily delicate plots, both solid and subtle, is a joy to experience. He creates worlds in which we can’t help but immerse ourselves. It’s impressive enough that he can do that world-realization in his novels; to do that within the relatively limited parameters of short fiction is doubly so. The journey is taut and fraught and emotionally charged; the destination is visceral and surprising and both exquisitely chosen and utterly unexpected. He earns every shocked disbelieving headshake he gets - and there are a few ... What you might not expect from a book of scary tales is how funny they are. Hill’s wicked sense of humor isn’t omnipresent, but when it pokes its s—t-stirring little head up, it makes a big impression. He’s clever, but not overly so; there’s none of the performative neediness you sometimes get when a writer tries to show off. There’s nothing needy or show-offy about Hill’s work; it’s more than strong enough to exist on its own terms ... an outstanding collection of work from the pen of an outstanding writer. Joe Hill began his career trying to step out of his father’s shadow, but that time has long passed. He’s not standing in the long shade anymore, if he ever was. Instead, he’s casting a shadow of his own, one that grows longer with every exceptional offering.
RaveThe Maine EdgeWhat elevates this work above the usual dystopian dive is Ball’s prose. His unique literary sensibility brings a bleak lyricism to the narrative, a fluidity of form. All of it devoted to creating not just the tragic segregation of this new world, but also the complicated characters that inhabit it ... literary speculation at its finest. This isn’t the first dystopian vision that Ball has constructed, but he’s shown that there’s far more to be mined from this vein than one could ever extract in a single work. This new novel is a perfect illustration of that, combining a descriptive deftness with a thematic confidence – Ball doesn’t feel to spell things out or saddle the reader with unnecessary exposition. The ideas and images he deems important are the ones he places front and center; he simply expects us to follow his lead. And it is a lead well worth following ... Ball’s work is unique, infused with a thoughtful and idiosyncratic style unlike any other writer you’re likely to encounter. That voice echoes loudest in the simplest moments, capturing the irregular details that ground the narrative in a place of verisimilitude despite the esoteric nature of the setting. It’s a world that feels real. And worse, it’s a world that feels somehow plausible. Not likely, really … but plausible. That unsettling undercurrent flows just beneath the story’s surface, lending a sense of pathos and quiet desperation to every person’s journey ... the sort of work that one points to when singing the praises of speculative fiction as \'serious\' literature. Through his incredible craftsmanship and narrative sophistication, Jesse Ball is able to access the incredible thematic depths potentiated by these speculative tropes. Beautifully conceived, packed with emotional complexity and challenging detail, this book is another outstanding offering from a unique literary voice.
PositiveThe Maine EdgeWho Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is the kind of book that doesn’t come along every day, an interesting inversion of a fairly common literary trope. It’s an unusually well-aged coming of age tale, a balding bildungsroman if you will, dropping the spiritual awakening and self-actualization of a youngster crossing the cusp into adulthood into an emotionally inert blogger pushing 50. A character like this – one who presents as innocent and culturally ignorant without ever coming off as stupid or hateful or mean – is difficult to pull off, let alone as your hero. The funny part is that it works. That’s far from the ONLY funny part, of course. Clarke demonstrates a dry wryness throughout that juxtaposes nicely with the baseline absurdity that lurks just beneath the surface ... The narrative is rife with red herrings and odd twists to offset the scattershot emotional motivations ... As you might imagine, the resulting chaos makes for a hell of a read ... an engaging literary feat, a coming of age story for the already-aged.
RaveThe Maine EdgeTrue literary excellence is rare. At any given time, there exists a relative handful of writers capable of creating legitimately exceptional prose...Zadie Smith is one such writer ... a magnificently wide-ranging selection of stories so diverse and divergent that it sometimes seems that their only shared quality – the one thing that marks them as the work of a singular author – is their excellence ... if anything, the exceedingly high quality of this work is being undersold. Yes, among these 19 pieces are works that maybe don’t shine with quite the same brightness, but they too offer their luster. The stars shine less brightly than the moon; the moon in turn less brightly than the sun – are any of them any less captivating because of a disparity of lumens? ... so packed with impact that choosing a favorite feels like a fool’s errand. They’re all so goddamned GOOD, you know? Every piece is charged with intelligence and wit. And they all have something to say, which is another indicator of literary excellence that is all too rare these days ... That sense of intellectual challenge is buoyed by preternatural prose gifts, resulting in stories that dig into your brain and set up shop, burrowing beneath the surface only to pop up to offer even more unanticipated insights ... astonishing. Anyone who has ever read a word written by Zadie Smith knows what a talent she is, but when you sit down and pore through this collection, filled with weird tales and autofictional intimacies and experimental explorations, you’re confronted with the sheer magnitude of her abilities ... a masterful collection from an exquisite storyteller. Few writers have the talent to pull something like this off. Fewer still have the audacity to even try. How lucky we are, then, that Zadie Smith has both.
RaveThe Maine EdgeIt’s a layered metafictional take on the tale, a story that succinctly blends the modern with the postmodern as well as a deft use of a classic touchstone to explore a much more current cultural landscape ... Rushdie keeps every plate spinning, moving swiftly but smoothly from idea to idea. There are numerous places where it seems as though one or more of these plates might drop—that they MUST drop—yet the author always arrives in the nick of time, ensuring that everything remains in constant motion, always advancing toward the shared conclusion. Even as the pace accelerates toward a raucous, over-the-top conclusion that is nevertheless somehow perfectly logical, the story stays the course. The story-within-story writer-as-character trope has long been a mainstay of postmodern fiction, but Rushdie manages to give the conceit some fresh heft ... Quichotte is an exceptional work, one that searches for hope even against a deeply cynical belief that nothing matters. If it’s possible for a book to be optimistically nihilistic, then that’s what Rushdie has given us with this one.
RaveThe Maine EdgeThere’s a timeliness to this book, an of-the-moment quality that also possesses a sense of universality ... another strong entry into King’s prolific and ever-more-impressive late-period oeuvre, a continuation of the storytelling ranginess that he’s put on display over the past decade-plus. He’s gleefully veered all over the narrative map, telling tales that are both different than what he’s done before while also absolutely being of a piece with his previous work. It’s astonishing to consider; the surprises keep on coming ... Nobody captures what it means to be a kid quite like Stephen King; so much of his best work seems to deal with adolescents and adolescence to some degree. He evokes not just the complexities of childhood, but also a real sense of the adult a child might grow up to be...Luke and his friends are the latest in a long line of exceptionally-crafted kid characters in King’s work ... King’s certainly no stranger to outsized representations of supernatural terror, but he is also one of our best at digging into the most human aspects of evil ... All of this, by the way, is packed into one hell of a thriller. King’s plots are unfailingly propulsive; the manner in which he unfurls his stories compels the reader’s consumption to an almost-greedy degree. And the settings he creates are exquisitely vivid; he evokes place with an easy, immersive grace ... more outstanding fiction from our greatest storyteller. It is a book of the moment in ways both large and small, a thoughtful and thought-provoking tale that is exquisite in its anger and steadfast in its hopefulness.
RaveThe Maine EdgeIt’s an evocative and atmospheric work of historical fiction featuring strong Gothic undercurrents and a relentless bleakness; a dark book packed with shadows both literal and figurative. The pull of the narrative is steady and strong, inviting readers into a world that will haunt their imaginations long after the final page is turned ... Nathan has imagined a vivid and unsettling place, one where the wealthy can indulge their whims without accountability and the poverty-stricken are willing to sacrifice everything for the perceived comfort money can bring. It is a tale of the power of isolation, the necessity of physical and emotional contact to the well-being of the social animal that is man ... The Warlow Experiment is captivating, capturing the spine and spirit of a particular place and time. It is rife with an aesthetic and attitudinal murkiness that wholly engulfs, pulling us into the deepest parts of the many shadows cast.
RaveThe Maine EdgeSome of the best speculative fiction comes when a writer is able to extrapolate forward in a manner that is both engaging and plausible ... That’s what Rob Hart has done with his new novel ... The Warehouse brings a keen satiric edge to its rendition of a corporate dystopia ... That\'s the real power in something like The Warehouse. It illustrates that greed knows no boundaries, and that even those with the best of intentions can eventually wind up making the most reprehensible of choices so long as they can talk themselves into believing that it is for some nebulous greater good. That’s the perspective we get from Gibson Wells, and it is vital to the novel’s success. The Warehouse is funny and bleak, putting forth an exaggerated but nevertheless still plausible take on the direction our world seems to be traveling. It is a sharp takedown of 21st century corporate culture that serves as something of a warning—our seemingly small individual choices can eventually have much larger consequences than we ever could have known.
RaveThe Maine EdgeFirst Cosmic Velocity...is an absolute gem of a book, a tale of tragedy disguised as triumph. It is a beautifully-crafted work of literary genre writing—part historical fiction, part sci-fi, with hints of family drama and magical realism thrown into the mix as well. It’s a story unlike anything you’ve read, told from a perspective unlike any you’ve experienced ... Everything about First Cosmic Velocity works. The concept is outstanding and the execution is exceptional. The attention to detail is phenomenal, allowing for a clear and vivid picture of the behind-the-scenes chaos of the Soviet effort ... the characterizations are sharp, capturing the inner turmoil of those struggling with the moral and ethical ramifications of the work being done—and the willingness to push through in the name of scientific achievement and nationalist glory. What Powers does so beautifully is immerse the reader in the world that he has created.
RaveThe Maine EdgeFew writers today have been working the cultural criticism beat as long and as successfully as Chuck Klosterman ... strange and offbeat, small and skewed glimpses of the zeitgeist through weird-colored glasses – think Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, only in a much bigger hurry. And while they vary in length, style and tone, all of them ring loudly with the author’s distinctive voice ... Pure Klosterman, all of it ... shot through with cleverness and an element of the absurd, capturing the unique inquisitiveness that is a Klosterman hallmark. There’s an ironic detachment throughout the collection, a sense of remove that comes through even when a narrative is unfolding in the first person ... not all of these stories are home runs; some suffer due to Klosterman’s tendency toward abrupt endings, others never quite get sufficient room for their ideas to flower. But even the relative misfires are entertaining despite whatever flaws they might have. He’s throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, a kitchen sink approach that is enjoyable even when less successful ... a fun, fast-moving collection of quick hits. No one looks at the world quite like Chuck Klosterman does; for him to turn that vision in a slightly different direction is a welcome change. Shining that perspective through the prism of fiction makes for a grand and strange good time. There’s wisdom and a surprising amount of pathos as well.
RaveThe Maine EdgeRusso’s many strengths come together here in one thoughtful and extremely readable package. His quietly elegant prose is perfect for rendering forth the emotional dynamic of the aging man; his knack for bringing small towns to life and his love of the coast come into play as well. And through it all, the steady tick-tock of time passing – a sound that is far less frightening when Russo controls the clock ... Chances Are … offers up the standard Russo blend of humor and pathos, yes. But there’s also a darker undercurrent than we usually get from him ... Connecting the past and present in a way that feels genuine and earned takes a narrative deftness possessed by precious few writers. Russo does it with seeming effortlessness, building full, rich connections with a scant handful of sentences before simply drawing us into the community that he has created. Chances Are … is one more wonderful book from a man responsible for a lot of them. It’s a tidal read – as gentle and steady as it is strong and inexorable. I read it in a day; it’s a cliché to say, \'I didn’t want to put it down,\' but … I didn’t.
RaveThe Maine EdgeIt’s a chance to gain a closer understanding of the complexities of Parcak’s work, as well as the value that comes from digging into our ancient past. It’s a compellingly-written piece of popular science. But it also offers something that other science-oriented nonfiction doesn’t—the warm, impassioned and funny voice of Sarah Parcak ... But what makes this book really shine is how much of Sarah Parcak we get. Her passion for her work is omnipresent, leaping from every page with an enthusiasm that is undeniably infectious ... Creating a narrative flow with a book like this is tricky, but Archaeology from Space is a real success in that regard ... One of the joys of this book (of which there are money) is the heartfelt humor that Parcak delivers. The tone could be described as mildly self-deprecatory with a little bit of an edge; she’s unafraid to punctuate thoughtful and/or technically dense segments with jokes that are unabashedly goofy ... a wonderful piece of work, a book that entertains as it informs ... She shows us how she uses the bleeding-edge of the future to dig deeper into the past, all while telling tales in a writerly voice that is sharp, witty and charming as hell.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a charming and engaging story that also proves willing to look at loss and how that can mean different things to different people ... There’s a wonderful juxtaposition at play here ... this is a debut novel from Holmes, although it certainly doesn’t read like one. There’s a smoothness to the storytelling that is a great pleasure to read, a gentle persistence of plot that bears the reader forward with deceptive speed – it’s the sort of book that you might read cover-to-cover in a single sitting if you’re not careful. The characterizations feel very full; Evvie and Dean are well-realized in ways both large and small. Oh, and it’s pretty damned funny in stretches too ... an ideal summer read, the sort of breezy book that offers strong relationships and compelling characters while also providing a fluid narrative flow. Few things are as captivating as love born from loss; this book offers that and more. If this is how Holmes begins her career as a novelist, I can’t wait to see what she does next.
RaveThe Maine Edge... a compelling thriller built on big ideas – typical of Crouch’s thought-provoking sci-fi sensibility ... science fiction at its apex, combining sophisticated concepts with sharp plotting and interesting characters. There’s a density to the narrative that could easily prove too complex, but Crouch has such a delicate touch that even as we bounce from perspective to perspective and time to time, there’s never the slightest issue. Juggling multiple timelines is tricky business, but even as the stories cross and uncross, with branches begetting branches begetting branches, the thread is never lost. It’s all handled masterfully ... One of the things that’s so much fun about Crouch’s work in general – and Recursion in particular – is the degree of difficulty with regards to narrative complexity. His books are marvelous puzzle boxes, stories wrapped in stories that challenge the reader without ever demanding more than they can give ... Another of Crouch’s many strengths is his understanding of character ... top-tier science fiction. Conceptually and narratively, it is a mesmerizing work, carefully constructed and exquisitely executed. It’s a story of the power of memory … a story you’ll never forget.
RaveThe Maine Edge... delivers exactly what its title promises. It is a fascinating deconstruction of the nature of pitching by those men who did it best. It is a cross-section of the game’s history, showing us the ebb and flow of the craft and how pitches have come into and fallen out of favor over the years ... Kepner’s passion for the game permeates the narrative he has constructed. The book offers intricate detail mixed with stories of the game – he blends the tangible notions of grips and spin rates and throwing motions with the ethereal myths of baseball’s bygone legends. It’s a combination that serves to elevate each element, a rich and engaging reading experience for any true fan.
RaveThe Maine Edge... weird and fantastical ... a strange and at times unsettling adventure, one that bounces back and forth through time and operates on multiple, metatextual levels ... a deft and beautifully written piece, one that uses its inspiration as a springboard to dive into waters that are deep both narratively and intellectually. There’s a starkness to the story that is juxtaposed by the lushness of the prose; even at the tale’s bleakest, the language is captivating and compelling ... Some might struggle with the darkness, both overt and subtle, that bubbles to the surface throughout this book. And there’s no denying that the story gets challengingly bleak at points. However, that unsettling quality, that sense of the sinister, the shadowy evil dressed in deluded trappings of love – it is gut-punch powerful in a way that lodges itself in the memory ... Haddon is unafraid to explore complicated themes in his work; his grasp of the human condition’s complexity is one of his greatest gifts as a writer ... a striking and visceral reading experience, an ambitious work that places perspective on our passions and dives deep into the power of myth...Weird and twisting and packed with marvelous detail and unsettling power, this is a truly challenging – and truly exceptional – book.
RaveThe Maine EdgeThe Nickel Boys is Whitehead’s seventh book – and arguably his best yet. He eschews the genre flourishes with which his previous storytelling ventures have been peppered, instead committing to a straightforward realism that allows just the briefest glimmers of hopefulness against a nigh-unrelentingly bleak backdrop ... one of the most emotionally fraught books I’ve read since...well, maybe ever ... So much of Whitehead’s work involves race and how race impacts the American experience. Those themes are explored again in The Nickel Boys, albeit more directly than in past offerings. That directness lends even more heft to the already-meaty discourse he drives ... The slim volume comes in at just 224 pages, yet still overflows with furious poetry and intellectual rawness. It unspools with pacing that feels breakneck while also managing to elicit a sense of stasis; the whole thing practically drips with the frustrations of the societal status quo ... we have to recognize the narrative brilliance that Whitehead brings to the table. There’s a stunning vividity to his language ... Thought-provoking, powerful and shatteringly sad.
RaveThe Maine EdgeMcGuire juggles the narrative back-and-forth expertly. The story switches perspective as well ... It might sound confusing— and if it was even a little less well-executed, it would be—but again, McGuire deftly shifts from POV to POV without missing a beat ... There’s a fantastic through thread that involves excerpts of [a] children’s book—titled Over the Woodward Wall—and serves as a lovely companion to the narrative. It’s a lovely continuing detail that seasons the rest of the story just beautifully. One of the smartest choices in a book full of smart choices ... [The protagonists] are compelling, fully-realized characters about whom we are invited to care—their honest interplay is as magical as anything in the book ... It has been a while since I read a work of genre fiction that resonated with me quite like Middlegame did. The complexity of the world building is impressive, with a real depth of thoughtful detail. It’s stylistically challenging in the best way, making the actual reading experience all the more engaging.
PositiveThe Maine Edge\"... a quirky and enthralling work of alternate history ... Rendered in McEwan’s indomitable and inimitable prose, Machines Like Me takes the reader inside a love triangle unlike any our world has ever seen, a romantic tangle involving a man, his upstairs neighbor – and a machine ... Machines Like Me brings a lot of ideas to the table. So many, in fact, that one occasionally worries that they might overwhelm the story being told. And in the hands of a lesser writer, they likely would have. But with a maestro like McEwan directing the show, concepts slide together rather than clash, serving as complementary pieces in the service of a larger, more intricate narrative ... Machines Like Me is an exceptional addition to the alternate history oeuvre, combining compelling characters with dynamite storytelling in the creation of a fully-realized and familiar-enough world. McEwan demonstrates a real curiosity about the nature of self and an earnest desire to probe the moral and ethical underpinnings of what it means to be human. It’s a story that will capture your attention in the moment, but the ideas that it explores will be present long after the final page is turned.\
RaveThe Maine EdgeIt’s a quirky and enthralling work of alternate history, a counterfactual conflation that brings forth a world quite different than our own, albeit populated by personalities that will ring all too familiar ... Rendered in McEwan’s indomitable and inimitable prose, Machines Like Me takes the reader inside a love triangle unlike any our world has ever seen, a romantic tangle involving a man, his upstairs neighbor—and a machine ... Machines Like Me brings a lot of ideas to the table. So many, in fact, that one occasionally worries that they might overwhelm the story being told. And in the hands of a lesser writer, they likely would have. But with a maestro like McEwan directing the show, concepts slide together rather than clash, serving as complementary pieces in the service of a larger, more intricate narrative – cogs in the machine, if you will ... Machines Like Me is an exceptional addition to the alternate history oeuvre, combining compelling characters with dynamite storytelling in the creation of a fully-realized and familiar-enough world. McEwan demonstrates a real curiosity about the nature of self and an earnest desire to probe the moral and ethical underpinnings of what it means to be human. It’s a story that will capture your attention in the moment, but the ideas that it explores will be present long after the final page is turned.
T. J. Martinson
RaveThe Maine EdgeAn exploration of the dark side of superheroism, evocative of the work of comics legends like Frank Miller, the book digs deep into the ethical and moral quandaries that permeate the notion of vigilantism – costumed or otherwise – and offers a look at the consequences therein, some obvious, others less so ... will delight fans of comic books and other superheroic pop culture for sure. However, even those with no affinity for the feats of comic book heroes will find plenty to enjoy here. The truth is that Martinson has crafted a top-shelf crime thriller, one with rich characterizations, vivid settings and a twisty-turny plot. Yes, there’s a superhero here, but the book isn’t ABOUT a superhero – not really.
RaveThe Maine EdgeWill Mackin has produced something that holds up alongside the very best war literature of the 21st century ... These stories are powerful portraits of men at war, capturing the desperate passion and brutal absurdity of the battlefield. They are filled with grit and honesty, unflinching in their warts-and-all approach to narrative ... Every single one of these stories sings ... every story—really, every SENTENCE—is impressive and impactful ... It’s a meditation on the many forms that grief can take and the many causes it can have. It encapsulates beautifully the combination of pathos and dark humor that flows through every one of these exquisite 11 ... Mackin’s prose displays a deftness that belies its basic muscularity; it’s an ideal mix in terms of presenting these stories with the ring of genuine truth ... a brilliant debut.
RaveThe Maine Edge\"... excellent ... It’s a wonderful piece of speculative fiction ... Speculative fiction is never better than when it serves the dual roles of mirror and lens – roles that Famous Men Who Never Lived fills with spectacular success. Chess has forged both a mirror in which we can look upon ourselves and our world and a lens through which we can more closely examine those aspects of the world that demand detailed inspection ... Famous Men Who Never Lived is a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a refugee and the pain of losing one’s cultural foundation. It is also an elegantly written and darkly funny sci-fi narrative. However you choose to engage with it, one thing is certain: you’re going to dig it.\
RaveThe Maine EdgeThere’s an on-field perspective here that you don’t often get from the written word. Through these conversations, Feinstein has found a way to capture what it feels like—what it’s like to be standing in the huddle, to take the snap, to throw passes and take hits, to lead your team to a last-minute victory. It’s a view of the game from their perspective; engagingly capturing that perspective is one of Feinstein’s greatest talents ... Quarterback is as good a behind-the-scenes sports book as you’re likely to find. Feinstein has always been a masterful sports storyteller; what he’s spun together here holds up alongside his best. It’s a captivating deep dive, with the participants choosing to be a good deal more forthcoming than you might expect. There’s a great deal of honesty throughout this book that is refreshing; the nature of the job is such that you have to remain guarded with what you say and to whom. It’s clear that some trust was earned, which in turn leads to genuine depth.
Karen Thompson Walker
RaveThe Maine EdgeThe Dreamers is a lovely and weird book ... Walker proves particularly adept, unpacking complex ideas about relationship dynamics ... Walker’s stylistic choices allow us multiple viewpoints into the burgeoning chaos brought forth by the descent into extended slumber; short chapters careen from perspective to perspective, allowing us our own frenetic glimpses of fear, determination and despair ... There’s a haunting quality to The Dreamers. The gentility of its prose grants the element of surprise to narrative twists and emotional power; Walker eases you into moments that elevate your level of engagement slowly, subtly. Nothing is telegraphed, yet everything flows seamlessly. Even with the constantly-shifting POV, everything unfolds with a deft smoothness. Compelling characters, genuine emotional stakes, thoughtful themes and a central premise rich with potential—The Dreamers checks all the boxes. Walker has written a hell of a book, one whose propulsive narrative sense marries nicely with the relative understatement of its themes.
RaveThe Maine EdgePlaying to the Gods is compelling enough due to the story it tells, but Rader goes the extra mile; not only does he capture the details of each woman’s performative life, but he also mines the personal as well. Excerpts from correspondence, bits of juicy gossip, tales of affairs and exploits romantic and otherwise—it’s all here, all of it capturing a vivid snapshot of the mutual orbit held together by the gravity of these binary stars. Both women were larger than life—one from the inside out, the other from the outside in. Lovers of theater and theater history will devour this book, an entertaining and immaculate look at a time that in many ways served as the primordial beginnings of the modern stage.
RaveThe Maine EdgeIt’s a fascinating look at the entertainment landscape as it appeared during the crossover from radio to television, as well as an exploration of the realities of Jewish identity in the postwar years. It’s a portrait of the layered nature of identity both public and personal. But mostly, it’s a powerful examination of the relationship between fathers and sons. Kupperman is an incredible talent as a visual storyteller; when you marry that talent with the intense personal connection inherent to this kind of narrative, you get something that is truly special. There’s an idiosyncratic starkness to Kupperman’s art that manages to feel both simple and complex; his drawings elicit a striking depth of detail ... All the Answers is a marvelous example of how transcendent the graphic novel form can be ... a heartfelt gift from son to father, a thoughtful and wryly funny story conveyed in both word and image because that is, quite simply, the best possible way to tell the tale ... unquestionably exceptional.
Raymond A. Villareal
RaveThe Maine EdgeWhat ultimately emerges is a thoughtful and finely-crafted work that reads as particularly insightful pop history ... The book is put together like a piece of smart-yet-accessible nonfiction, capturing perfectly that piecemeal approach of meticulous research that goes into blending disparate elements. The first-person accounts are most compelling—they’re the ones with the most leeway to advance the narrative while also giving Villareal room to stretch—but they benefit greatly from the sprinkling of additional material. The interview transcripts are great, but it’s the excerpts from magazines, newspapers and the like that really fill the gaps and contextualize everything. It’s all tied together beautifully ... entertaining as hell.