RaveUSA TodayStraub is not so much concerned with time travel mechanics, the butterfly effect, or killing baby Hitler (or whatever the 1990s equivalent of that moral test would be). Straub is concerned with love – its different forms and expressions, how it evolves over time, and how we can be better at giving and accepting it.
Karen Joy Fowler
RaveUSA Today... profound and empathetic ... What can the inflamed passions, political extremism, stark division and racism of a wounded 19th-century America teach us about our country in its 21st century? In Fowler’s capable hands, plenty, and more than is comfortable ... Booth doesn’t hold anyone in judgment; like all the best literature, it seeks to better understand the human heart in all its flawed complexity. It’s a haunting book, not just for all its literal ghosts, but for its suggestion that those ghosts still have not been exorcised from this country.
Julia May Jonas
RaveUSA Today...provocative ... Jonas eschews easy, sympathetic narrative paths. Her protagonist is a woman less affronted by her husband’s sexual proclivities than by the widening generational divide that would hold him accountable ... not an easy novel. It soldiers into charged territory – weighted power dynamics in academia, sex, age gaps and class divides – with an unreliable and at times almost defiantly unlikable narrator at the helm. But the darkly wry novel proves a thorny, unafraid exploration of a post-menopausal woman’s desire, so rarely explored in art and popular culture except to turn lustful older women into the butt of jokes ... seductively subversive.
PositiveUSA Today...bracingly honest and mordantly funny ... for all the weirdness and trauma documented in This Will Be Funny Later, Pentland’s account of life with her family is also full of warmth and especially humor.
PositiveUSA Today... if you’re of a darker, more contemplative frame of mind, there’s something cathartic about Peter Heller’s latest novel, The Guide, an ever so subtly dystopian wilderness noir that speculates on the horrors of a post-pandemic society ... The enticing mystery keeps the pages turning, but not too quickly. The Guide is too beautifully written to speed through it, the descriptions of nature lush and vivid. Rarely has fishing felt so poetic, tying a lure so much like art ... Heller doesn’t much need to use the word \"COVID\" to evoke the virus’ specter. He peppers the text with unsettlingly subtle references to the pandemic...The dread mounts, but so too does the intrigue – and the sexual tension ... Perhaps the ending offers too tidy a resolution. To ask readers after the past year to still believe it’s possible for good to conquer evil is a tall order. But then making a cautionary tale on the widening divide between the haves and have nots in the era of COVID-19 go down so smooth is a tall order too, and Heller accomplishes that nicely.
RaveUSA Today... [Rooney\'s] third consecutive banger...an intimate and piercingly smart story about sex and friendship that finds the profound in the everyday ... sensual with lingering details ... Rooney is masterful at finding profound meaning in the quotidian, in ramping up the tension and heightening the stakes in the most microscopic of interactions. The pages fly as fast as in any thriller to find out if these four young adults can figure out how and why to live.
PositiveUSA TodaySuvari, now 42, is bracingly honest about her experiences ... But though Suvari is unflinching in detailing the sex, drugs, abuse and toxic relationships that afflicted her adolescence and young adulthood even as she was becoming a star, The Great Peace is not a sordid tell-all or Hollywood expose. Instead, Suvari has written something more personal, a sort of diary of her spiritual journey ... Though ultimately hopeful, The Great Peace is often a harrowing read.
PositiveUSA Today... savvy ... Final Girl indulges but doesn’t coast on nostalgia, and is itself a page-turning thriller with survival on the line ... While itself a wickedly entertaining page-turner that indulges readers’ appetites for slashers, Final Girl also smartly psychoanalyzes it ... It’s a thin and bloody line that separates horror fun from the truly horrific, and Grady has a lot of fun walking it as he writes his final girls a triumphant conclusion rarely afforded survivors in real life.
PositiveUSA TodayKoresky, a writer accustomed to turning his critical eye outward, professes discomfort at turning it inward to write about himself. That discomfort doesn’t show in Koresky’s tender depiction of a loving mother-son relationship and the passion for film it fostered. Koresky’s film writing is incisive and confidant but always approachable, never so academic that it loses its heart ... Films of Endearment moves with a beautiful universality that will inspire readers not only to revisit the \'80s films of the book, but to set out on film journeys of their own.
RaveUSA TodayKlara observes Josie’s complicated world with a child’s simplicity and moral clarity, making sense of it as she can through her limited perspective. (Don’t we all?) The constrained narrative vantage point can read precious at times ... But her stilted limitations also create a delectable puzzle box of the setting ... The dystopian details are the makings of high sci-fi but are approached elliptically ... Klara and the Sun is The Velveteen Rabbit by way of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. absent sentimentality. No honest observer of humanity will be much surprised by the endpoint of Klara’s journey, though the emotional gut-punch might still come as a shock.
PositiveUSA TodayA new warts-and-all biography of the comics icon challenges that saintly image. True Believer...makes the case that the \'Stan Lee\' we know and love was as manufactured a character as Spider-Man. Through extensive research and interviews with friends, family, colleagues, industry professionals and various hangers-on, journalist Abraham Riesman peels away layers of Lee\'s own unreliable narration to offer a more complicated understanding of an insecure man ... Still, True Believer doesn’t read like a takedown. For all his flaws, Riesman’s Lee elicits sympathy ... One need not be a comics nerd to find Riesman\'s portrait of the deeply flawed and relatably human pop-culture icon an absorbing read, and some of its revelations are stunning.
PositiveUSA Today[A Promised Land] finds the 59-year-old former president reflecting on the space between his presidential ambitions and the political reality that hampered them ... The most powerful person on Earth was rarely able to get his way. For over 700 pages detailing his political career up to the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden (Obama has many strengths; brevity is not one of them), Obama shows just how painstakingly the political sausage was made – or, with a Republican majority in the Senate and House, more often wasn’t made ... What Obama is grappling with in A Promised Land is legacy, and what his will be given that he wasn’t able to achieve what he had hoped. By some of his own measuring sticks, his presidency falls short ... Obama’s evenhandedness can be as frustrating as it is endearing. He doesn’t condemn so much as try to understand protesters outside campaign events hoisting Confederate flags, telling him to \'go home.\'
RaveUSA Today... a stealthily devastating novel of family, faith and identity that’s as philosophical as it is personal ... The first-person narration deftly hops through time, the details of Gifty’s past informing our understanding of her present ... Gifty’s voice is restrained and matter-of-fact. She speaks with the remove of a clinician, observing her thoughts and feelings with the same reserve as she does her mice. She dissects to understand. Her guarded control doesn’t lessen the reader’s connection to Gifty; it only intensifies the story’s emotional wallop ... It’s bravura storytelling by Gyasi ... The range Gyasi displays in just two books is staggering ... Gifty may not ultimately make sense of the soul in her scientific experiments, but Gyasi does through her art ... makes so much meaning.
RaveUSA TodayA wrenching tale of grief and identity ... Emezi has a gift for creating beauty of pain...A story that would otherwise be unbearable with grief is instead as luminous as Vivek dripping in his mother’s dowry gold, hair tumbling past his shoulders.
MixedUSA TodaySittenfeld is an adept mimic, channeling Hillary’s voice in a first-person narrative that places the reader in her head as she navigates love and the American electorate. It’s a familiar place, but never a fully living, breathing one – a neat parlor trick with no real magic behind it ... While the story of her courtship with Bill is vibrant with heartache, the political minutiae that follows – debate prep, fundraiser schmoozing, stump speeches, strategy meetings – drags the story to a crawl ... Nevertheless, as a thought experiment, Rodham is delectably discussable, a book tailor-made for book clubs. And Rodham’s epigraph, a quote from Hillary Clinton – the real Hillary – from her 2017 memoir...hits different after finishing the book: \'My marriage to Bill Clinton was the most consequential decision of my life. I said no the first two times he asked me. But the third time, I said yes. And I’d do it again.\' One can’t help wondering by the end of Rodham – would she really?
PanUSA TodayAs if coping with the ravages of a global pandemic hasn’t made life unpleasant enough, now we’ve all got to talk about Woody Allen. Again ... The least Allen could do was spin us a good yarn for all that trouble ... Apropos of Nothing is 400 pages of feeling stuck sitting next to the world’s most tiresome dinner party guest, a longwinded old man rhapsodizing over his many sexual conquests, recounting in exhaustive detail every fancy meal he has ever eaten and name-dropping all the celebrities he has ever rubbed elbows with. There are some insights into his creative process, but none of them are deep – it’s largely reminisced hobnobbing and dalliances. Until he gets to Mia Farrow and her daughters, Soon-Yi Previn and Dylan Farrow ... The way he talks about women is frequently repellent ... The rest is whinging self-pity ... Apropos of Nothing is devoid of introspection, feeling and accountability. It’s hard to reconcile how a man with enough romance to make enough heart to make The Purple Rose of Cairo, enough humor to make Bananas and enough psychological insight to make Crimes and Misdemeanors can show so little of those same qualities in the pages of this book.
PositiveUSA TodayAll Adults Here tackles a laundry list of big-ticket items, any one of which could have commanded its own book: transgenderism, homosexuality, abortion, bullying, artificial insemination and extramarital affairs among them. Straub juggles the weighty topics with a feather-light touch, funny without being flip, with keen insights into how we evolve through every stage of life ... On its face, All Adults Here doesn’t seem like it should be as engaging as it is. Its conflicts are every day. The reader floats along a pleasant current of non-plot alongside a cast of characters made up of good people trying hard to be better ... It’s a credit to Straub’s gifts of wit and observation that she’s made such a loving book so alive. Reading All Adults Here, you feel like maybe your life isn’t so small, that its minor joys and pitfalls are worthy of literature. If only Straub could be the one to document it.
Emily St. John Mandel
PositiveUSA Today... lofty moral and social meditations which, while rewarding, can feel untethered ... The shifting narrative voices can make it difficult to emotionally connect with any one character ... It requires an act of faith to trust that Mandel will find a way to meaningfully connect these threads. She\'s earned such trust; have faith it will be rewarded.
PanUSA Today... a gripping scenario. Then things get real problematic real fast ... positions itself as the great sociopolitical novel of our era. Instead, it reeks of opportunism, substituting character arcs for mere trauma. Bones are broken. Bodies are ripped apart beneath trains. Women are raped, and raped again. Multiple children die graphically, one crushed beneath a garbage truck ... Cummins has crafted an outsider with whom any reader can take the journey with a sympathetic heart, a middle-class working mother who crosses the border illegally only because she’s forced to by an all-powerful villain. It’s a cunning calculation, and also a deeply cynical one. Along the way, she encounters innumerable characters who exist solely to explain various aspects of the process (coyotes, border patrol, ICE agents) in stilted exposition, and every brown person reads as a potential threat ... Characters make terrible decisions that defy logic to advance the plot along a thriller’s prescribed path ... Even on a sentence level, American Dirt is frequently cringeworthy ... These character, story and style missteps would be problematic no matter the source. But it matters in this case that the source is a European-born woman in the U.S. without ties to the Mexican migrant experience.
RaveUSA Today... a giddily lunatic premise, one that author Kevin Wilson grounds with humor and deadpan matter-of-factness. Told in Lillian’s refreshingly unfiltered and a-touch-crude voice, the story makes a pair of spontaneously combusting children seem plausible ... Wilson’s observational humor is riotous in its specificity, his descriptions as generous as fistfuls of Halloween candy at the best house on the block ... Even when Lillian first sees Bessie catch fire, the writing dazzles as much as the girl ... But what dazzles most are the warmly rendered dynamics of an ad hoc, dysfunctional family that desperately wants to work.
PositiveUSA TodayThe Testaments is worthy of the literary classic it continues. That’s thanks in part to Atwood’s capacity to surprise, even writing in a universe we think we know so well. And she starts by making us root for dastardly Aunt Lydia ... Atwood is patient in unpacking Aunt Lydia’s intentions and executing her plan, and does so with a dash of keen mordant wit ... The Testaments builds in tension, morphing into a fraught tale of subterfuge and spycraft as it toggles between the three narratives, teasing how they might eventually intersect and why.
RaveUSA TodayThere is much trauma and regret to sift through...though author Jami Attenberg’s wordplay, wit and dark humor makes that a more pleasurable experience than most could manage ... Attenberg is also a masterful psychoanalyst, crafting characters whose mental and emotional journeys surprise even as they make perfect intuitive sense. She doesn’t flinch from digging into life’s messiness, pressing gently but resolutely into wounds to see what oozes out. There’s big stuff, like acrimonious divorce, trust-shattering affairs, sexual and psychological abuse. But it’s the small stuff – insecurity, lost youth, everyday loneliness – that quietly devastates ... an emotionally messy novel, but precise in craft. The narrative voice is complex and profound, jumping from head to head, consciousness to consciousness, inhabiting main characters and peripheral figures alike. Attenberg writes with care about even the most glancing characters.
PositiveUSA TodayThe bottom drops out of your heart early in American Predator ... The first half of American Predator is propulsive and un-put-downable in its mounting dread. The second half suffers from slowed momentum, perhaps unavoidably, as investigators find themselves stymied ... Callahan’s approach is still a smart one. She puts us squarely in the headspace of the investigators and organically builds tension by showing us the case through their eyes. We learn what they learn when they learn it ... While the book doesn’t shy from detailing the extent of Keyes’ crimes, it never reads lurid. The author has, as much as is possible, remained respectful of the victims to whom the book is dedicated.
PositiveUSA TodayThe conceit of Lara Williams\' second novel is a bold and aggressively indelicate one that challenges society’s expectations of women’s appetites — for food, sex, pleasure, all of it ... woven through with delectable food writing, cooking tutorials with almost erotic descriptions of souffles and caramelized onions ... The set-up sounds like Fight Club for women but ends up more complicated and interesting than that ... excels as a complex psychological portrait of a young woman shaped by abuses both brutal and casual and whose present-day relationships continue to be threatened by the reverberations of that abuse ... bursting with deep meditations on the lives of women and how they’re shaped and distorted by men who are careless, monstrous and all points in between. But those ideas never quite coalesce into a clear, ringing note, in part because Roberta remains difficult to inhabit throughout. She’s a smartly rendered character with an articulated psyche, but while her damage makes sense, it’s also distancing, even after several hundred pages inside her head ... Still, that the story doesn’t quite satisfyingly fulfill the promise of its premise seems secondary to the book’s ambition. Supper Club fascinates as an unflinching embrace of women and their many appetites, drowning the patriarchy in Béchamel.
RaveUSA TodayRivers of blood and ink have been spilled mythologizing the American Southwest, but rarely if ever with the sort of giddy beauty Téa Obreht brings to the page ... The Serbian-American writer displays dazzling dexterity and wit with the English language, transporting the reader to a fantastical late 19th century that borders on outright fantasy, where descriptions wax decadent and ghosts are treated as a matter of fact ... Inland is a book in no great hurry to get to its point, ambling amiably across its phantasmagorical vision of the West. The prose is dense, occasionally impenetrable, with chewy passages that can feel, in the moment, like unnecessary discursions, though most prove essential by the story’s fateful finale ... Inland blows you open, too, its final pages reaching to set you abuzz.
Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff
PositiveThe Star...a lot of fun. Stay Sexy is a strange hybrid of a book, part joint autobiography, part self-help manual, entirely profane and funny. It seems like it shouldn’t work; Kilgariff and Hardstark, admit as much ... It feels less like reading a book and more like hanging out with your cool aunts, who will slip you a wine cooler or two and listen without judgment while you spill your guts. There’s a lot of gut-spilling in Stay Sexy. Kilgariff and Hardstark share deeply of their personal lives and write intimately about their experiences ... Reading Stay Sexy, it becomes clear how hard-won Kilgariff and Hardstark’s success is. It took them decades to find the stability and confidence necessary to live life on their terms. The true achievement of Stay Sexy is you walk away from the book feeling like, whatever your mistakes, you’ll get there someday, too.
PositiveUSA TodayIt has the makings of a lurid thriller, but first-time novelist Julia Phillips...does something more sophisticated than that and turns her unshakable debut into a meditation on the lives of women in a far-flung corner of the world ... Phillips is so skilled at conveying place and people, you can feel the chill of the shadow cast by Soviet-style apartment buildings, smell the blood soup, taste the burn of cheap vodka drunk too fast to numb the pain. It’s so specific, and yet so universal.
RaveUSA TodayWhatever you think a novel is or could be, it probably isn’t this, a riot of feeling and sensation ... On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is irreducible by such easy categorization. There is no diagrammable plot here, no villains, no clear conflict. Vuong is pushing the boundaries of the novel form, reshaping the definition to fit the contours of his restless poetic exploration, using language to capture consciousness and being. The text spasms with memory like synapses firing in the dark ... To read this book is to fill your whole life with it, albeit not briefly. Vuong’s is poetry that lingers in the blood long after the words have run out.
PositiveUSA TodayThe social commentary is blistering but at times gratingly, unnecessarily explicit, stating its thesis through characters that sound like they’re talking at us instead of to each other ... The Farm is best when it focuses on the characters and trusts us to pick up on its deeper themes on our own ... It’s forgivable, though, that the book is so eager to make its point. Because what’s so striking about The Farm isn’t that it imagines a frightening dystopia ... Its very plausibility is a warning shot.
PositiveUSA Today\"The fallout that follows long after the schoolyard gossip dies makes for a keen psychological study of two specific, powerfully drawn characters that fixes its gaze inward. But in her microscopic specificity, Irish author Sally Rooney... has accomplished a literary magic trick, writing a novel of universal profundity that explores the way power dynamics in sex shape not just those relationships, but our sense of self ... Every line of Normal People is written in the service of character, even the most quotidian details ... Fortunately, there’s nothing at all intellectually unserious about getting swept away by Normal People.”