RaveThe Los Angeles TimesNewman has been careful to preserve many of Orwell’s best conceits and jargon, including Newspeak ... Newman solves the enduring mysteries of Orwell’s Julie without resorting to twisty or outlandish machinations. Her additions accord with the original on the level of both plot and language ... Newman hasn’t proved herself a worthy successor to Orwell; she’s outclassed him, both in knowledge of human nature and in character development. Julia should be the new required text on those high-school curricula, a stunning look into what happens when a person of strength faces the worst in humanity, as well as a perfect specimen of derivative art that, in standing on another’s shoulders, can reach a higher plane.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThis book has too little plot — or plenty of it, depending on your perspective. If you believe a novel requires narrative tugs-of-war and dynamic, multicharacter scenes, plentiful pedestrian reads await ... Suspense, at least of the kind expected by an avid reader of similar adventures, is never the point ... She convinces us instead that even the unluckiest among us can find a way to the blessings of peace, quiet and freedom.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThe author clearly wanted to write a book about California and its surf culture that would acknowledge the origins of surfing, its appropriators (good and bad) and its true believers (same). To do that, she needed to bring in at least one character of a different race. Jimmy winds up as a lonely avatar of diversity in a book stuffed with storylines ... Perhaps we are meant to understand that Carol’s wretched parenting has consequences. But it doesn’t quite work, any more than the plot’s occasional references to Carol’s fate — especially after early portents fizzle into anticlimax ... The characters spring to life, however, when they’re on their boards ... At times, this book feels crammed with subplot and passing references to developments ... But in other places — and overall — California Golden plants its feet firmly on the board and rides a powerful wave of nostalgia, eyes focused on the opportunities and dangers ahead.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesMenéndez wants you to see the unit itself as a character that connects the tenants’ stories, a repository of different kinds of energy ... The connections make clearer sense when you realize the ideas in Menéndez’s inanimate narrative voice derive from psychology and the human need for a home base ... Menéndez has given life to a place both indistinct and emblematic.
Elizabeth L. Silver
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThe author departs liberally from Ginsburg’s well-known and oft-dramatized biography ... The Majority reminds us that individual motivations don’t always line up neatly with collective needs. And that a political machine counts for nothing if it doesn’t put people first.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWhen a book has a big conceit I want it to be completely obvious, or at least completely seamless. Jeannette Walls’ latest novel, Hang the Moon, definitely succeeds in seamlessness, its narrative of Roaring ’20s country life roller-coastering along. But the novel becomes more intriguing once you know its rural Virginian petty dynasts correspond to the Tudors at the height of British rule ... Hang the Moon might strike some as a significant departure, but it still feels of a piece with her more personal excavations of rural lives, with the aperture opened up to different classes and histories ... In order to find out the author’s vision for how Sallie Kincaid will guide her community forward, you’ll have to read the author’s smart, energetic and cleverly revisionist novel for yourself.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesEccentric and wise ... In Beagin’s hands, the entire situation remains clean and pillowy ... While Big Swiss is one of the funniest books of the last few years, Beagin can handle darkness ... Hilarious, humanistic ... There is ample joy to be found in Big Swiss ... Shelve her latest novel alongside those of Richard Russo, Nora Ephron, Armistead Maupin, Jess Walter and other comic novelists whose works are both timely and ultimately transcendent.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesKois not only brings a certain lightness to decades that are as full of loss and angst as they are of discovery and triumph; he reminds us that darkness and light always coexist ... Which brings me to my one problem with this novel: too much coexisting. Kois toggles among so many different scenes and characters that I sometimes wished he had made some more of his own hard choices ... Vintage Contemporaries is crammed a bit too full of plot, not unlike the cramped city it documents. Fortunately, it’s also overstuffed with bittersweet beauty, not unlike the vintage contemporaries of Laurie Colwin.
Lynn Steger Strong
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesLynn Steger Strong employs winter’s bounty to great effect, laying the groundwork for a plot that is decidedly, deliberately old-fashioned — in the best way ... Attentive readers won’t be surprised to find that the igloo plays a role in the story’s climax, although they may be surprised by how easily their attention has been diverted by the author’s elegant scene swiping ... it’s her facility with the details of habit and personality that breathe life and plot into this novel ... Like the birds that form the book’s leitmotif, Strong’s writing soars effortlessly from characters’ histories into their present situations, alighting here on the two brothers, there on the three women, then back to the age-old chaos of running children through the gantlet of dinner, baths and bed. She could easily have stuck with this family and its ultimately genteel concerns...But Strong is up to more than that ... the toughest lesson Strong shares in Flight is that not every story can have a satisfying conclusion. True reconciliation, safety, stability, fulfillment: These are destinations along a flight path forever uncertain — though shot through, like this novel, with moments of transcendence.
RaveLos Angeles TimesStunning ... One of Ng’s most poignant tricks in this novel is to bury its central tragedy...in the middle of the action. This raises the narrative from the specific story of a confused boy and his defeated father to a reflection on the universal bond between parents and children ... Our Missing Hearts will land differently for individual readers. One element we shouldn’t miss is Ng’s bold reversal of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. It is the drive for conformity, the suppression of our glorious cacophony, that will doom us. And it is the expression of individual souls that will save us.
RaveLos Angeles TimesAfterlives covers decades in the lives of its three main characters, Khalifa, Afiya and Ilyas. They each experience various kinds of deprivation, salvation and injustice in the aftermath of colonialist brutality. The novel also hews close to some of the German occupiers. It would be easy to make them caricatures ... But Gurnah not only holds himself back from lampooning the Germans, he also makes sure we see how desirable their station could seem to the young men who made up their Schutztruppe ... Gurnah brings all these afterlives to a closure simultaneously ripe with meaning and rotten with evil ... Gurnah...sees in all directions at once. He constructs his latest magnificent novel so clearly and carefully that when his very last lines bring us back to love and kindness, we’re ready to pay attention.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesIt seems right and proper for a novel concerning World War II-era Italian fascism to highlight how easy it is for all of us to fall prey to false romantic narratives. All the better if the author is Anthony Marra ... He can conjure both a bleak Italian hut and a gossipy American household, both a farcically bickering pair of siblings and the interior world of a Chinese American actor. He also knows exactly where to insert historical anecdotes and when to opt for pure invention, weaving it all together with witty asides ... The first third of Mercury feels aptly cinematic, whirling readers through half a dozen scenes so varied that they feel like a passel of movie trailers, more evocative than narrative ... Is this too pat a conclusion, an affirmation of the American passion for happy endings as manipulative as the faux authenticity that sets Eddie on edge? Marra has, though, been smart enough to sprinkle his novel with unhappier endings, so that when this one good thing happens it feels earned, even … authentic ... Although Mercury Pictures Presents is uneven and downright discursive in many places, its cinematic scope ultimately achieves a grandeur beyond its particulars. Besides, we could all use a grand narrative now and then, especially now, when such a thing seems to recede past the horizon with every passing day.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesThe book’s denouement may be less surprising than its finale, but it’s no less deliberate than Allison’s tooth-cleaning process ... Dermansky brings a woman back to life as the sun emerges from the clouds. Allison’s choices may have seemed baffling, but in the end, her existence at last belongs only to her. It might be too early in the author’s career to say she believes her characters can only make bad choices. But in Allison, she has found one capable of breaking through stale scenarios like a powerful, cleansing storm.
David Santos Donaldson
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... not since Iris Murdoch’s The Philosopher’s Pupil have I read a novel crammed full of so many ideas and tropes that they threaten to spill out of its margins ... Ostensibly about a young queer man in Manhattan, Greenland is also a novel of identity and place, but it is less about claiming one’s own territory than deciding who gets to come inside ... If Donaldson did nothing else in this novel but tell Kip’s story, his sensitive investigation into isolation would make it notable...Yet Donaldson is after something larger than literary New York’s blind spots ... These toggles aren’t merely fancy jump cuts; the stories and eras blur together like overlaid transparencies ... Amid all this is a lot of sex — all of it meaningful in Donaldson’s hands ... runs over with philosophy, psychology, politics, literature, family sagas, food, beauty, style, history, geography. This is a book with respect for neither the margins of the page nor those that confine us in the real world. Some may find its bountiful overflows confusing or unnecessary; I found them mostly captivating. Whatever your personal tolerance for the disorder along the way, Donaldson sustains a plot that ends with ecstasy, action and reconciliation, satisfyingly concluding a novel of ideas that is also about one queer Black man finding his true north.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesHan is very funny both in small moments and larger ones ... That plot summary would make for a terrifically mordant comic novel, but Han is so skillful in his debut that it becomes much more than one family’s hapless attempts to cope with their son’s dilemma and the media blitz that threatens to ruin their chain business. Yes, Grace and Jacob are alienated from their parents’ industry and family piety, as well as from each other. But the novel really gets going when that alienation slithers out from their stories into the streets of Honolulu, where not everyone feels at home ... It’s that tension that gives Nuclear Family its radioactive fuel: between traditional values in both Korea and Hawaii, between all traditional values and the mores of American capitalism. Early on, the author focuses on the generation gap among the Chos. But somewhere in the middle, Han’s writing becomes experimental — particularly in a section written by Grace full of \'redactions\' that invites the reader to play an existential variation on Mad Libs. If you can freely substitute words, why not people? ... If you’re not struck by these sentences, maybe you haven’t been paying attention to the history of all the United States, where Indigenous languages have disappeared and the children who speak them are shunted off into reservation schools even as their usurpers embrace all the country has to offer. We have more in common with the Chos than ambition and generational drift ... In Nuclear Family, through laughter and wonder and intriguing complexity, Han makes us pay attention.
MixedLos Angeles Times... generating a feeling that might best be described as complete safety in an author’s hands; you sense she understands her characters so well that you can sit back, sink in and trust the story ... The trouble with LaCour’s approach is that it takes a while for Sara and Emilie to come completely alive, even though their creator clearly knows them so well. You can feel their attraction to each other, but you can’t see them as individuals (this may in fact be an obstacle to their union). They’re each talented and resourceful and almost impossible to tell apart, and not because they’re both young women: It’s because they’re unspecific ... What works best for LaCour in YA writing works against her, to some extent, in Yerba Buena. The author understands what it takes for a character to mature ... LaCour turns out to have been writing a story about falling out of love, partly because one partner hasn’t yet learned to love herself. That isn’t necessarily a new concept, but here it feels fresh, and not because the lovers are both women — once again, LaCour manages to make that a given, part of life’s path — but because they’re young and unformed ... has some fits and starts as its author makes her own transition to more mature subjects, but it is sweet and bitter and full enough to assure me that she has all the ingredients she needs for the next, older and wiser novel.
RaveLos Angeles TimesBohjalian is at heart a thriller writer, eager to upend charming scenes of wildlife-spotting with a deadly twist...For all its open sky, The Lioness better resembles an Agatha Christie locked-manor-house mystery, with bodies falling like clockwork, than a gripping survivalist yarn...Where Bohjalian one-ups Christie is in his character development, going beyond the primary question to explore the psychology of the survivors...Each chapter alternates real-life drama with backstories that may or may not overlap...The result is a puzzle along two axes, interconnecting individual survival stories with a larger, much more sinister game afoot...Eras change; so do the styles of movie stars and the types of honeymoons they take...Drawing on its cast for both color and depth, The Lioness provides a meaty look at what makes us animals in what we call civilization—and what makes us human when we\'re out in the wild.
RaveLos Angeles TimesBarrett’s stories contain so many layers they’re worth rereading more or less right away ... Some prose writers, especially those who are deft with plot, can keep your attention even while writing unnecessary sentences. That’s not the case with Barrett. Every line counts; if you skim his work, you may understand it, but you’ll rob yourself of both pleasure and surprise ... That needle-drop of wisdom amid life’s dailiness signals Barrett’s unique genius more than any under-35 accolade can ... If Barrett should choose one day to write a novel, it will be something to see, perhaps like the parts of the Irish coastline the tourists ignore. Forget your Cliffs of Moher and take a detour to those at Slieve League; gasp as you summit the rise and face natural glory unmarred by visitor centers or traveling herds in thin plastic ponchos ... That’s the experience of reading Barrett’s fiction — the hard truth shorn of familiar signposts or souvenirs. He writes what he knows, but he also writes to discover what he doesn’t know, a simple but crucial distinction you can sense instinctively, no matter how many of his compatriots you’ve already read.
RaveLos Angeles TimesMelissa Chadburn’s brilliant and terrifyingly honest debut novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, has a moment of such...horror that I was once again tempted to skip the whole story ... The power of A Tiny Upward Shove rests in her insistence that even the murdered had agency in their lives, no matter how forgotten or lost to themselves and society ... Perhaps it’s her drive to amplify every voice that leads Chadburn to a risky and not always successful choice. She covers not just multiple narrators and perspectives, but multiple ways of setting them up and setting them apart ... the narrative pastiche can be confusing, especially in close proximity to traumatic episodes. Don’t let the confusion—or the trauma—stop you short. Pick the novel back up again, as I did. There are payoffs and compensations ... Chadburn has written a stunning debut novel about the hardest things, drawing on style, study and tough experience to make it impossible for us to look away.
Joe Mungo Reed
PositiveLos Angeles Times... there’s a lot of information and interplay to get through before the plot well and truly thickens ... On second thought: The information is the action — it is the essence of Reed’s style as well as his source of tension. What happens before the hammer comes down, be it an auctioneer’s gavel or a tyrant’s order? ... a many-layered slow-burn of a novel that won’t be to every reader’s taste. Not only does the story wend its way down a rambling country lane, but the road is bordered with giant hedgerows. Like would-be gawkers riding past Bel-Air estates, characters and readers alike are left desperate to know what unattainable riches lie beyond ... a tragedy of manners, should such a thing exist. It is also a timely document of a world in which corruption and sincerity, lofty intentions and craven pursuits, can be impossible even for the perpetrators to tell apart.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesThe course of Barry’s road-trip narrative is about as linear as the Buddhist path—which is to say, not at all ... There’s much to savor in Barry’s descriptions of Buddhist scripture, rites and concepts. But if you’re looking for the writing found in We Ride Upon Sticks, you’ll be disappointed. Not to say that the sentences in When I’m Gone are not strong or beautiful—they are both ... The satisfactions of narrative, on the other hand, are more elusive. As the story moves from the territory of the Reindeer People to the Western mountains, then back to the steppes and then over to the stark monastery, what began with the trappings of a novel turns into more of a travelogue ... Barry is most successful when she allows a scene to reveal Chuluun’s character, especially his ambivalence about the monastic life ... The author also excels when using the lens of Mongolia to illuminate global crosscurrents ... the author exposes overlooked places and history in a world where, against all odds, there is always something new under the desert sun.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveLos Angeles TimesMandel knows how to brew a story. As Edwin, Gaspery and other people scattered across time...all experience similar visions, we settle in for a juicy sci-fi ride, replete with time travel, lunar colonies and robot landscapers. But Mandel is less concerned with the mechanics of science fiction than with using its tropes to chart new courses through human relationships and their consequences ... The book jumps across time with impunity, following an internal map that will make exquisite sense at the end and only at the end ... That’s a small quibble to make of a novel that is pure pleasure to read ... Following a superb stylist like Mandel is like watching an expert lacemaker at work: You see the strands and later the beautiful results, but your eyes simply cannot follow what comes in between.
RaveNPRWhat\'s most interesting about Slocumb\'s novel isn\'t the mystery of how and why the violin disappears, although the red herrings and dead ends are interesting enough, especially when it comes to the Marks family, who insist that the Strad belongs to them because their forebear gave it to Ray\'s great-great-great-grandfather — whom they enslaved. It\'s easy to imagine a similar tug-of-war in present-day America, where so many still seem to believe that because enslaved people had no rights, their progeny shouldn\'t either ... Slocumb imbues his character\'s life with so much authenticity in the details, details that anyone who has played a stringed instrument, or played in a professional ensemble, will recognize ... Where Slocumb shines, even when his writing becomes a little stiff, is in the passages where he shows Ray\'s grit ... . Slocumb\'s debut on the page will, I hope, not be his last appearance there, because he has plenty of brio to share with readers as well as listeners.
RaveNPRDevotees of cozy mysteries, rejoice: Nita Prose\'s debut, The Maid, satisfies on every level—from place to plot to protagonist ... Prose dials up the tension by creating a realistically different heroine ... Prose makes a wise choice in Molly\'s first-person narration, allowing readers to enter Molly\'s world ... While some readers may guess who the killer is immediately, it doesn\'t really matter, as the book is more about Molly—who does not. There are other things happening around Molly that she misses, too, including a crime ring that relies on an undocumented immigrant\'s fears of deportation ... The delight of reading The Maid lies partly in watching a hectic cast of characters unravel (take special pleasure in watching Rodney Stiles, the hotel head bartender on whom Molly has a crush) as the crime is properly solved. It also lies in seeing Molly learn that thinking differently does not equal giving up friendship or high standards. What begins as a sprightly murder mystery turns into a meaningful, and at times even delicate, portrait of growth.
RaveLos Angeles TimesRoddy Doyle’s new collection, Life Without Children, provides evidence that the short story, with its contained scope and drive, is the best way to convey how intensely individuals have struggled with COVID-19 and its global ramifications ... something more universal in his style, its claustrophobic force and mastery of close-quarters dialogue, works especially well in a volume all about the lockdown ... Very few modern fiction writers can do so much with so little ... Doyle...is the right writer for this job because he can take a worldwide event and distill it into a delicious fruit drink or a pint of properly pulled stout—if not a world in a glass then at least a full experience. Like the privation that fueled his earlier plots, global disaster doesn’t necessarily bring out our best selves, or even different ones. But it reveals a lot, and it makes for a tasty batch of stories.
Peter Stamm, Tr. Michael Hofmann
PositiveLos Angeles TimesYes, his prose has the precision of his country’s famous watches. Yes, his characters often do things—cheating, leaving, hurting, stealing—that would make the Roys of HBO’s Succession look like kids on a playground. But you never stop and think, \'This is preposterous, this could never happen, no one acts like that.\' If this is cold, you feel, perhaps reality is at fault ... If Stamm’s prose appears to some as \'bloodless\' and \'cold,\' might that be because it unspools almost like reportage? He’s a journalist embedded on the front lines of his characters’ psyches, not invested in manipulating their choices according to theme. Or, at least, that’s how he manipulates us, even as he builds his themes with a hidden smile ... vintage Stamm, a story collection predicated on how humans behave, not how we might like them to behave. Case closed, mouth shut, eyes wide open to see the truth.
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"At the heart of Claire-Louise Bennett’s new novel Checkout 19 lies a paradox: Grasping the identity of a nameless protagonist. The young woman who does, at one point, occupy a cashier stand 19 at a supermarket, builds her inner life for the reader through hectic and nonlinear streams of consciousness ... go with the odd tunings and odder chords that make up the symphony of Checkout 19 as it portrays one artist’s struggles. Near the end, one of the narrator’s early stories comes to life as she hits rock bottom and once again finds her muse. In that wild, fairytale-esque finale, the writer’s fingers elongate further and further until they turn into frantic threads that whip around the room and catch fire from the proverbial burning candle. I’ll refrain from spoiling the last sentences, except to say that if you’ve been paying attention, they make an eerie sense.Checkout 19 echoes Virginia Woolf, early Toni Morrison novels, Sheila Heti and Han Kang, and so many others in its insistence on women telling their own stories in their own ways.
PanLos Angeles TimesFittingly (perhaps too much so) for a novel about a divided country, Beasts of a Little Land brims with oppositional pairs. In rough order of appearance: Hunter versus tiger, Korea versus Japan, rich versus poor, parents versus children, man versus woman, sister versus sister, capitalist versus communist, mother versus courtesan … and so on. It’s a great deal to process, let alone rank. Suffice it to say that Korea contains many of these dualities and paradoxes—though, unfortunately, Kim can’t always hold her fictional tiger by its tail ... there is something jarring in the more personal stories. Kim’s sheen of romance, sentimentality and even a strangely dissonant nostalgia (given the subject matter) might be attributed to the secondhand nature of these anecdotes, at least as the relatively young author might have heard or read them ... Adding to the sense of unreality is the utter lack, in a book teeming with underworld activity, of any courtesans catering to (or anyone having) preferences other than the heterosexual. Yet that is a small quibble next to the strangest omission in the book—its jump from 1945, when the Japanese emperor surrendered to the Allies to end WWII and Korea declared its independence, to 1964, when the lives of several characters finally end. What happened to the brutal war that resulted in Korea’s schism? ... Should she take on the thornier moments of history—Korean or otherwise—the author would do best to push past shimmering symbols and easy archetypes into a reality far messier than we might prefer it to be.
PositiveThe Washington PostIf you’re looking for a novel about addiction in which rehab or a savior figure makes all the difference, you might want to skip Irish author Lisa Harding’s Bright Burning Things. But if you’re interested in a novel that gives authentic voice to a modern woman’s alcoholism, pick up this smart, sensitive book ... hectic and affecting ... Harding’s December novel is, at its foundation, just the right story for this season: a woman who saves herself to give her son the ultimate gift of a healthy parent.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... powerful ... Keegan’s first novel enters the world this month with the shocking force of a debut. With its main text running to just 70 pages, it might have been deemed a novella, but it earns the greater designation. Keegan, whose short stories contain unusual depth and grandeur, is the only contemporary writer who could manage the feat of a completely imagined, structured and sustained world with such brevity ...As Keegan’s concise, capacious new book demonstrates, little acts can lead to real change.
Sarah Zachrich Jeng
PositiveNPRJeng employs a light hand with the wholly imaginary tech and a skillful touch with the huge amount of whiplash...experiences; never has a down-at-heel Midwestern artist been involved in so much intrigue ... Jeng\'s light hand with the tech helps, because it doesn\'t get in the way of that reckoning, but it\'s also obvious that there\'s really no way to delve deeper into the tech. It\'s wholly imaginary, and this is no sci-fi story ... While later developments do ramp up the action, it\'s sad to see Jeng abandon what could have been a more nuanced story of close friendship and ambition ... Still, toward that finale there\'s also a lot of crazy action to keep readers turning pages, and it\'s a lot of fun to see a woman character figuring things out to save her own life.
PositiveThe Washington PostHow do you write about privileged White parents and make it fresh? Leave it to novelist Bethany Ball ... Because this is a comic novel, albeit more sardonic than droll, those eggs will wind up scrambled. Watching the denouement may not surprise readers, who know that a gun room revealed early on will appear again, and that a magnetic leader will probably experience a downfall. But that doesn’t take away from the well-observed details ... a few subplots are left hanging, a few ideas undeveloped — but the novel’s bite and loose structure promise excellent social satire to come from its author.
MixedThe Washington Post... moving and discursive ... We all have our preoccupations and distractions, Corin indicates, and sometimes they’re benign. Unfortunately for Em hers will take a darker turn and may finally alert her to the effect her role as caretaker of a mentally ill sister has had on her own psyche. But given the book’s several narrative voices, not to mention the pieces inserted in a sort of pastiche (including an episode of a TV show titled My Strange Addiction), some of Corin’s own preoccupations and distractions can make her plot difficult to follow.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesOnuzo knows better. A woman’s past cannot solve her problems. What Anna needs to recover is herself. The scene in which that happens seems overheated and overdetermined, with too many signs and symbols. But the one that matters most hits home for both Anna and the reader — the not-so-hidden homonym of her name, \'anagram.\' If Africa contains multitudes, so do we all — and, in Sankofa, Onuzo hints that the answers to our problems lie neither behind nor ahead of us, but within.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesDoerr is less interested in world-building than world-connecting. His meta-narrative is not a pointillistic patchwork but a seamless tapestry ... At the end of the novel, Konstance breaks through a wall. It’s one of several unexpected turns revealing, above all, that Doerr still hopes for human redemption. Does he believe in it? What matters more is whether the reader does — whether we have the will to breach the walls we have constructed.
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"... [an] old-fashioned, meandering tale ... The Lincoln Highway bears its weight easily ... The book-within-the-novel is both a convenient source of nested tales and a thematic vector, indicating Towles’ commitment to wrestling with classic Americana—that braid of fact, fiction and derring-do so many of us recognize as a birthright, for better or worse ... That notion of American openness, of ever-fractalizing free will, coming up against the fickle realities of fate is the tension that powers Towles’ exciting, entertaining and sometimes implausible picaresque ... Anyone who follows The Lincoln Highway will relish the trip, bearing in mind that there are roads not taken, whether by choice or for the absence of one.
PositiveThe Washington PostMoriarty excels in unpeeling characters’ psyches ... If Moriarty stumbles at all in this story, it’s at the end when she brings us back into Savannah’s orbit, where things get overlong and a bit convoluted. That’s a shame, because it’s also when we learn what the title is all about, a powerful reminder that parental love and attention do matter over time. Moriarty does know how to combine a family saga with a mystery; she’s done it before ... What she has more trouble with may be balancing hope with hopelessness, never an easy task. But that lapse isn’t all that important. Moriarty tells a great story, understands her characters and cares about them, too. Readers who have kept up with her books will adore Apples Never Fall, and readers just discovering Moriarty will seek out her previous titles after savoring this fresh, juicy tale.
MixedThe Washington PostIf you’ve read any of [William\'s] other books, you’ll know their experimental nature sparks electricity rather than burning readers out, and that’s true in this new, urgent novel as well. Between references to important and sometimes arcane classical literature and deliberately obscure vocabulary (gangrel, yaws, trephined, erlking, carling, to name just a few), Harrow insists that readers pay attention to the decline of the natural world. Williams brings up stories that may be imaginary in 2021 — like uteruses harvested from brain-dead bodies for rich women’s use — but feel all too probable in the world of Harrow ... Unfortunately, this strange plot’s center doesn’t hold.
RaveThe Boston GlobeFour females of different ages and stages will be in for the fight of their lives that night. If you suspect one will be retiring from life’s ring, that’s not a spoiler. Miriam Toews will make you cheer and sob for all concerned in her richly imagined Fight Night.
PositiveThe Washington Post... smart ... Baker dedicates her book to \'the millions of women who are struggling to be caregivers, mothers, co-workers, and spouses all at once,\' and she adds, \'women can do anything, but they can’t do everything.\' Her novel implies that no easy answers exist, but she’s written a fun, fast-paced book that at least asks the hard questions. Because something needs to change, drastically, if women are expected to continue combining careers with raising families.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... a deeply moving act of recovery ... In a photo of those pages reproduced in the book, Mildred Harnack’s cramped yet careful handwriting crystallizes Donner’s goal: to write her heroic forebear back into history, to bring her back to life.
RaveThe Washington PostIf you have ever been the primary parent of a small child, reading Rachel Yoder’s debut novel, Nightbitch, may feel as if the author stuck her hand into your brain and rummaged around. Yoder has a powerful understanding of the alienation that can set in for stay-at-home mothers and others ... surprising, and surprisingly gory, scenes in this novel. They’re not gratuitous, but they’re also not genteel...Neither is Nightbitch. She’s raw and complicated and angry ... Not only are these imaginary tribes of women wittily conceived, but they also remind us of motherhood’s shared experiences: the changing bodies, disrupted sleep schedules and tiny potentates demanding macaroni again and again ... As Nightbitch disrupts the equilibrium of her household, allowing her long-suppressed fury to surface, something else happens: She rediscovers her creativity. The scene of her art opening is unforgettable. So is Nightbitch. No one should take her for granted.
PositiveThe Washington PostIf Something Wild paints a bleak picture of society, maybe that’s because Halperin has worked as a domestic-violence counselor ... Nessa and Tanya mistake sex, sexual desire and sexuality for anger, violence and the misuse of power, because that’s what they’ve seen in their mother’s life post-divorce, at a time when they, as young teens, are vulnerable to misreading adult interactions. What’s different about Something Wild isn’t necessarily that insight, but the care with which it’s developed. Rarely has an author taken the time and demonstrated such honesty with the complexity of girls’ desire and how they act on it, how it can sour the sweetest relationship ... At a time when many novels rely on intricate plots or eccentric narrative voices, Something Wild eschews literary pyrotechnics and relies instead on the power of truth. We may not like what we see, but we know we’re being given an opportunity to change the way we look at sexual dynamics.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesAlthough Crouch’s novel is, yes, a sharp-eyed comic treatment of what the government refers to as \'trailing spouses\' — those who follow ambassadors to their sinecures — it’s also a sad-eyed testament to corruption and misogyny ... rather than write a story of pure suffering, she has taken the opportunity to contrast the country’s problems with the so-called struggles of its more pampered residents, government officials and diplomats ... It’s fun to watch these real housewives of international diplomacy attempt to cope with a country they don’t understand ... Reading the flashback sections, I found it harder and harder to come back to Persephone’s schemes and Amanda’s petty concerns ... One thinks it important, here, to note that Crouch — regardless of her time in Namibia, as the wife of a writer on a Fulbright — is a white woman writing about Africa in an #OwnVoices era ... Not only does Crouch pull off this subtle concoction of sugar and medicine, she deftly blends them by involving Mark in a gemstone racket that reeks of exploitative colonialism, ancient and modern ... Come for the romp but stay for the study of human nature and human survival ... For a writer setting her sights set on a summer readership, it might mean coating a very bitter pill with some sweet folly. In Embassy Wife Crouch makes tough lessons very easy to swallow.
RaveThe Washington PostThis would be a compelling plot told in a straightforward manner. Told through the voices of Mab, Monday and Mirabel it becomes richer, funnier and more poignant. Their adolescent ideas about their fellow residents (who include a wonderful elderly neighbor nicknamed Pooh), their hopes and dreams for their futures (Mirabel has no illusions about her own) and their determination to fight for justice make this one of the summer’s freshest novels. One Two Three tells a more complicated story than its title implies, all the while reminding us that big changes can be made through small steps.
RaveLos Angeles TimesThis structure naturally lends itself to suspense, which Lee knows how to exploit ... readers are kept guessing at Williams’ motive for the shooting. Lee elevates the tidy historical mystery plot by allowing readers to understand that, despite his own marginalized status as a gay man, Green was able to rise through his privileged status as a white man in the same society that made life difficult for the Black man who shot him, the Irish woman who keeps his house and the woman of mixed race whose luxurious brothel the shooter craves ... It’s a remarkable and subtle portrait of a person forced to redirect his life’s energies, channeling them into projects that still change other people’s lives a century and a half later. Lee’s sentences and scenes are so polished and vivid, they can almost be read as separate set pieces ... But the effect of the writing is cumulative—a construction in which we come to understand that every great mistake is made up of smaller ones ... Lee has given his subject a prose memorial with a beating heart and superb mind, something worthy at last of a complicated man whose vision far exceeded his fame.
Zakiya Dalila Harris
RaveNPR... occasional chapters seem to rise out of nowhere, but they are actual plot thickeners, devices that will ultimately take The Other Black Girl out of the realm of \'office novel\' and into another genre entirely, and finally toward a kind of sad and wholly earned brilliance ... Harris...has a great deal to say about what it means to be a woman in the workplace—and how wrong it is to refer to women as \'girls.\' One of the best scenes in The Other Black Girl takes place in a salon, with dozens of women of different ages trying out new coiffures. It\'s not a coincidence that the central conceit of the book has to do with hair, that longstanding preoccupation of the femme. Harris makes her entrance as an author with singular style. Whatever she does next might seem quieter, but watch for it: It will be brilliant.
RaveLos Angeles Times... stunning ... What’s changed in Taylor’s work is not his subjects but his style. These 11 stories still involve life in and around academia, as Real Life did, with all its attendant types and even, at times, archetypes ... Now, however, Taylor seems to have taken the immediacy that has always marked his nonfiction writing and applied it to his imaginary characters. As individuals, they often have trouble connecting with others, but as fictional entities, they pulse and glow on the page ... these moments offer careful insight into vulnerabilities ... In the second half of Real Life, the author seemed to break through the scrim between himself and what he wanted to describe. In Filthy Animals, there is no scrim; each story has a cinematic quality that is wholly earned and not derived from thinking, as authors sometimes seem to do ... Each of Taylor’s pieces is emotionally rich but also physically grounded. His writing is fine without being enigmatic. There are dirty dishes, cruel remarks and messy orgasms, but nothing elusive or precious. Taylor, a former doctoral candidate in biochemistry who is once and ever a scientist as well as an artist, trusts facts to tether feelings ... Deep observation combined with deep compassion keeps readers focused on real lives even in the midst of chaos, rage or disaster ... allows its characters to crawl out into the open and learn to love.
MixedThe Washington PostThis debut novel has its uneven bits—the long sections about the Atmosphere’s beginnings could be trimmed to save space for explaining how the cult grows later on, but McElroy offers trenchant commentary on our society’s fraught gender dynamics ... The Atmospherians provides a sharp-edged view of how contemporary gender politics have changed culture—but not what it means to be human.
Jean Hanff Korelitz
MixedNPRKorelitz is an erudite and elegant writer whose steady tone in each of her books is outdone only by her steady hand with, yes, plot. As long as she\'s focusing on Bonner\'s easy ethics and early success, her steadiness, underlaid by sly humor, promises a takedown that will topple all the big and pompous male authors of our time ... However, the question \'What\'s the harm?\' does need answering, and it\'s in cooking up a response that Korelitz falters, because she makes this a fair-play mystery, meaning the kind that scatters clues throughout like bread crumbs, allowing readers to solve the dilemma if they so choose ... Unfortunately, one of those clues had me guessing the ending — correctly — before I\'d even reached the book\'s midpoint. It was a red flag, and even though I want to add a counterpoint to that phrase, I\'m more committed to not giving spoilers than I am to my own cheekiness. Suffice to say plenty of readers will also guess ... Unfortunately, grace notes like that aren\'t enough to overcome some of the more pedestrian passages in which Bonner, like a plodding Captain Hastings without a Hercule Poirot in sight, attempts to figure out the Parker-family puzzle. It might be, from a writer of Korelitz\'s talent, that I wanted and expected a more fiendish and psychologically driven book. Instead, this Plot falls flat.
MixedThe Washington Post... not an easy or, at first, a coherent novel ... For all the harrowing scenes in Animal — the grisly miscarriages and the bloody childbirth, to name a few — the most shocking might be the weird and disturbing scene in which Joan conceives her daughter ... The lesson here is that women do not have to be bound by the desires of men. That women can and should dictate their own stories on their own terms.
PositiveNPRAnna\'s fate will definitely surprise readers. It\'s rare to find a debut mystery crafted with such elegance and authenticity, let alone in a place that has been so neglected as a literary location. Slor\'s next novel will be one to anticipate.
RaveThe Washington Post... may be this year’s funniest novel. There are not enough women authors on the Best Comic Novel lists, and she deserves a place on all of them, stat ... You have to pay attention to a book like Heiny’s. She’s not working broad, she’s working as a broad, a woman confident enough in her understanding of the world to take it all down a notch ... While Jimmy’s life isn’t the only plot in this sweetly sardonic book, it does link the main characters in ways that are just plain sweet, showing off the strengths of small-town life alongside its myriad flaws ... Like her comic-novel forebears — Flora in Cold Comfort Farm, Hazel in Made for Love and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando — Heiny’s delightful protagonist contains multitudes and leaves us wanting to learn more about her life.
Edward St. Aubyn
MixedThe Boston Globe... \'clunky\' and \'odd,\' but also \'fascinating\' and \'poignant.\' This is not a book for the inattentive—or unsophisticated ... St. Aubyn throws out high concepts and cultural references faster than his creation Patrick Melrose popped pills, both on the page and on the screen (played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC TV series). You might want to know something about botany, chemistry, neurology, psychiatry, Shakespeare, London geography, even why the English rough their potatoes up to roast, all before you start reading. Not put off? Meet ridiculous coincidences ... What I can say is that Double Blind fizzes and percolates and sometimes thuds with dilemmas that apply to many people, despite St. Aubyn’s characters remaining (mostly) privileged English people ... Because of their immense resources, these characters can spend time talking about ideas. As the book twists on, I became less and less invested in any of their talking, especially when Francis finds himself tempted by a moneyed American woman named Hope who keeps showing up naked in his environs. Yawn ... However, Martin’s patient Sebastian, the schizophrenic, provides the real hope in Double Blind ... If the book had spent less time zigging and zagging it might have had time to explore a society in which two people who start in the same place wind up in such different places. When Edward St. Aubyn takes his writing seriously and writes about serious subjects, his natural whimsicality aids his gravitas. Unfortunately, when he tries to write comic scenes, he can veer wildly off course ... I wish Double Blind could be revised and reissued. Maybe then its deep, relevant ideas could be more fully explored and made accessible to readers put off by all the private jets, Champagne, and magic-mushroom capsules in this version.
PositiveThe Washington PostVera takes readers on a necessarily brief tour of her prosperous, thriving West Coast city ... When we’re hearing about Vera’s experiences, the book races along, even more so when we’re meeting other catastrophe survivors ... While the history strikes an authentic note, some of the narrative rings hollow. We care about Vera and her companions, but a subplot about urban graft doesn’t add much to the story, even when Vera’s path crosses with those of real-life pols Abe Ruef and Mayor Eugene Schmitz. Too much happens too near the end in a novel whose spiky, proto-feminist heroine should have been given more space to absorb the one lesson her mother imparts ... Vera doesn’t quite fit the usual parameters for a heroine of historical fiction, but perhaps that’s why she makes such an arresting narrator. Readers looking for one of those, plus a new perspective on the Great Quake, will find them in this novel.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeDepending on how you slice Foregone, you might find a book about a temperamental, privileged, cishet white male artist, a book about capturing art, a book about dying, a book about personal truth, or even (and finally) a book about how the spotlight lies to us ... Banks has crafted a powerful novel about what remains.
RaveThe Washington Post... delectable ... Broder’s second novel combines her singular style with adventures of the calorie- and climax-filled kind, sumptuous fillings surrounded by perfectly baked plot.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesLet’s get this out of the way: My Year Abroad is not Chang-rae Lee’s best novel. Not even his second best. But can we agree that even Lee’s worst novel would be better than most authors’ best efforts? ... You could call it a “base-camp novel,” something written between works scaling greater heights. Long preoccupied with the ways identity holds people back, Lee now seems to want to write about how those things open us up, for good or ill. My Year Abroad shows what happens when someone like Tiller Bardmon, whose material needs have been met, risks his emotional safety without a net.
PositiveThe Washington PostNo one needs to wait for copyright expiration to use Fitzgerald’s plot, that time-honored story in which a person on the fringe of high society becomes entangled in its enchantments and perfidies ... Tarkington, a talented and compassionate writer, neither wishes to shock nor to prevaricate with his plot. His fortunate characters have deep flaws and complicated pasts, and that includes the secondary ones ... Although The Fortunate Ones has some narrative flaws, uneven pacing chief among them, Tarkington’s insight into the meaning of home rings true.
RaveWashington PostIf you want something light and airy, and that’s where Pamela Redmond’s Older comes in ... Like Younger,Older” contains a lot of wisdom between its one-liners... Older explores what happens when a woman rejects societal expectations, embraces her experiences and trusts her gut.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesIn well under 300 fast-turning pages, Powell manages something much larger and more complex: an autopsy of the entire caste system of post-World War II Britain ... Not only do these characters misunderstand each other’s motivations; they also don’t know enough about themselves ... Rivers have eddies, and so does the novel. As some sections move forward and backward in time, sometimes reversing direction, the main narrative thread tends to flow forward. Slowly, steadily, we come to understand the forces that shape the story, while the flashbacks help us understand the forces that shape its characters. None of these unfortunate souls escapes the pressures of their time, although the women fare worst of all.
Chelsea G. Summers
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... requires some chewing, and that is mostly — as Martha Stewart would put it — a good thing ... This obviously ironic blitheness in fact calls back to Sondheim and Swift, who invoked cannibalism to drive home dark moral fables — though here it’s larded with an M.F.K. Fisher level of savory detail ... Sometimes Dorothy takes too long a walk to such hard-hitting truths. But there is more to her stories than cold disquisitions or horrific self-caricature ... There’s gristle in her toothsome tale ... A comic novel, a horror novel, a feminist novel and a moral novel of a kind, A Certain Hunger will sate yours — at least for entertainment.
RaveThe Washington PostBefore you think \'A novel in poetry? Hard pass!\' give Crossan’s free verse a try. It flows as easily as honey, eliminating much of traditional narrative’s necessary blather. And it accomplishes a stream-of-consciousness feel that conveys both how quickly grief can shatter a person and how those shattered pieces still connect ... Some readers may experience slight confusion with Ana’s narration, because she speaks to Connor as if he’s still alive, reeling between past and present as it suits her. However, once you’ve absorbed Ana’s dilemma, you’ll understand Crossan’s purpose. Ana continues to work, to meet friends, to care for her children, to spar with her husband, Paul, all while she’s falling apart inside. Was the affair worth all that? Is any affair? The conclusion comes as a surprise and shows Crossan to be as thoughtful a novelist for the grown-ups as she has been for young people.
RaveLos Angeles TimesEvans seems to use the shorter stories in Historical Corrections as an extended overture to the novella that concludes the book, with each story embodying a particular problem faced by Black people in this country: invisibility, classism, the tensions of being multiracial and the whitewashing of history ... One of the saving graces of the last few years is the abundance of sharp fiction that deftly dramatizes racial injustice and division in this country. Evans goes further than most, though, in exploring divisions within the Black community — including the sort of \'internalized capitalism\' that could, for instance, make a Black celebrity support a racist president ... Evans calmly and expertly navigates the limits and possibilities of short stories. Yet here they risk being given short shrift because they work as a preamble to the novella, which combines uncommon storytelling with rare wisdom. Evans jokes in her Acknowledgements that her editors at Riverhead didn’t \'yell\' at her when she said she wanted to release another volume of short fiction. That’s probably because they were too busy cheering her on, knowing that her eventual novel will be worth the wait. The Office of Historical Corrections certainly has been.
PositiveThe Washington PostAlready a pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club, Tate’s memoir of her years as a patient of Dr. Jonathan Rosen contains plenty of secrets, some salacious ... It’s titillating and sometimes shocking to read the specifics of what these upscale and once-uptight men and women discuss, but is it more than that? Does it serve them? ... It’s not that Tate doesn’t show the steps; she does, sometimes in excruciating detail. The smutty mantra she adopts with Rosen – which revolves around the kind of sex she wants to avoid – will make more than a few readers shudder in distaste. Others may nod their heads empathetically ... What’s most fascinating is the dynamic of members of a psychotherapy group determined to strip themselves bare in front of an audience.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe narrative resembles a meandering, obstacle-strewn river, flowing around outcroppings until those outcroppings become part of them ... Hall maintains a consistently elegiac tone, even as the perspective shifts from one family member to the next. This heightens the poignancy of the pain they’re all going through, and it reminds us that even when one person takes center stage, the others still exist ... These voices from the past speak so clearly to our time, at a moment when many of us wonder whether we’ll lose the things that we consider blessings, like civil rights ... a quiet but steady book, one that echoes ancient and important rhythms.
PositiveThe Washington Post... what saves the book from melodrama (it’s well written, but heavy on emotion) is its through line: Bianca’s devotion to poetry. Like her idol, Sandra Cisneros, Bianca wants to be a voice for her people, the Mexican American working-class residents of Southern California ... Givhan manages to tell a story about Mexicali culture that, by focusing on one young woman’s hope, avoids cultural generalizations and tells, instead, a story of family growth and personal triumph.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesIf you’ve ever watched someone build a house of cards and then immediately knock it down, you’ll have a feel for what esteemed Irish novelist John Banville does in his latest mystery, Snow ... a salubrious hybrid. While the setup might resemble a Black novel, the prose reflects Banville at his best, especially when he’s describing the titular weather ... In a scant few pages, Banville literally upends his beautifully constructed house of cards with a violence and savagery that feels wholly earned. The true voice and face of evil resides here in a system that purports to hold up the Irish people but rots from within. To say much more would not spoil the plot, but it might spoil the effect of the damage done ... Is it all predictable? Perhaps. If you’re expecting a razor-sharp fair-play mystery, you’re in the wrong place. Banville has written that type of narrative successfully. He didn’t kill off Black in order to write Black’s books. He means to use Black’s framework for his own purposes ... In doing so, Banville joins an illustrious group of authors who have understood that the conventions of genre can expand fiction’s possibilities ... Banville flicks away his house of cards not simply for the fun of watching it scatter, but in order to reveal what lies beneath.
PanThe Los Angeles Times... dismaying is that the cross-dressing psychopath is among the least egregious stereotypes in this deeply troubled new entry in the Cormoran Strike series ... Galbraith/Rowling spends far too much time on the inner workings of office birthday gifts and the inner workings of almost everything else, from the types of biscuits served in witnesses’ homes to Ellacott’s feelings about her brothers’ friends; these are not details that move the plot along. That might be why what could have been a suspenseful mystery congeals into a 900-odd page slog ... It’s the characterizations, however, that sink the story and for the opposite reason: They lack the texture of reality. Creed is a stereotype ... the real abomination in Rowling’s writing is not her treatment of a trans character, at least not in this book. It’s her treatment of most any character Strike and Ellacott meet as they seek the truth about Dr. Bamborough’s fate ... endless pages are clouded by ambivalence ... Does Rowling want to write an interconnected series along the lines of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley books? If so, she could dispense with the caricatured witnesses and focus on Strike and Ellacott’s relationship, which is truly knotty ... amateurish portraits ... Perhaps Rowling should divorce herself from Robert Galbraith, divorce her writing from murder mysteries, and dig deep instead into the things that really matter to her: women (or at least cisgender women) and children. She needn’t, for a second, try to write about things she doesn’t understand and doesn’t care about — unless, of course, she wants to become an artist focused on humanity as a whole, including the people she’s prone to misrepresent.
Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
RaveThe Washington PostCertain authors have such mastery over the short story form that you never forget the first time you read their work ... Likes lays out bread crumbs for the reader to follow, the fairy-tale reference deliberate given that several of the stories play on those weird fables we tell children ... Shun-lien Bynum allows her characters to believe they’ve seen the truth, but shows her readers that the characters — like us — rarely get it right. Likes is a short-story collection you should read slowly, but it’s so good, each story at such a high-wire level, that you’ll wind up tearing through it and wishing for more.
Nancy Jooyoun Kim
MixedLos Angeles TimesThe novel’s interior moments — in which mother and daughter think tragically past each other — work best ... Had the author kept the narrative this close, The Last Story of Mina Lee would have been a stronger book, its tangled subplots (Korean flashbacks, organized-crime figures) more of a counterbalance to the characters’ yearnings. Unfortunately, Kim succumbs to a common failing of first novels, telling too much ... The Last Story of Mina Lee may not be perfect, but it’s a story that cries out to be told.
RaveLos Angeles Times... bursts open like delicious fruit on the edge of rot. Believe me when I say that’s a good thing ... You’ll never read another book filled with so much excrement and decay, at least until Chang writes her next ... The stories of Hu Gu Po and other Taiwanese mythology aren’t used winkingly here: Their physical manifestations are the novel’s reality. And they manage both to ground these women’s experiences in tradition and to help them take flight ... There’s nothing new about a queer coming-of-age narrative combined with a multigenerational account of family trauma...The list could go on. However, Chang not only ups the intersectional ante but also raises the stakes with vivid, earthy language ... as Chang opens up multiple perspectives, there are moments of relief and rest. This is not a book about abuse qua abuse, but about how abuse travels through a family, carried forward unto the next generation ... The daughter expresses that freedom in her love of a woman, Ben, who happens to come from Ningxia in mainland China. Expressing that love, she unleashes an exemplary flourish of symbolism, a showcase of the author at her supple best ... Her lyrical imagery promises a better future, and Bestiary promises more great work to come from K-Ming Chang.
MixedThe Los Angeles Times... baggy, picaresque historical fiction ... a rich stew of fact and fiction, innocents and rogues: a home for wayward mothers-to-be, a traveling circus, a couple gone mad from tragedy and a Greek chorus of Old Women who compete annually for the title of the town’s most elderly ... It’s all too much, on one hand, and for fans of Hegi’s previous work perhaps an unwelcome departure. Few of the stories resolve; some of the plots swell like overblown balloons, only to fizzle when attention shifts ... Spoiler alert: If you’re looking for a tidy linear narrative, The Patron Saint of Pregnant Girls will not do ... We can’t help wanting to hear more about Sister Hildegunde, or Sabine’s relationship with a man known only as the Honey Keeper, or how Lotte became the patron saint of the title. Or, as Hegi perhaps prefers, we can choose to submit to untidiness — to magical descriptions of a liminal landscape, to the rhythms of characters living and dying, thinking and acting in ways far removed from our own and yet intimately, perfectly familiar.
R. L. Maizes
RaveThe Washington PostOther People’s Pets, with its lively voice and unexpected characters, makes a perfect addition to anyone’s summer reading pile, but it is required for those who understand that coming of age has absolutely nothing to do with age.
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
RaveThe Washington Post... blazing ... The author brooks no sentimentality ... In Makumbi’s glorious telling, their connections are as complex as they are.
RaveThe Washington PostSweet Sorrow...just might be the sweetest book to brighten your late summer ... Framing the story this way [in retrospect] enables Nicholls to both save it from saccharine dithering and to remind readers that we’ve all had our own sweet sorrows, first loves that, when recounted, might set other people’s teeth on edge ... Nicholls’s effortless distillation of this formative experience is enough to make a reader wonder if all first loves share some of the same chords. Combined with the humor he brings to this adolescent awakening, the novel is a lilting reminder of how, even as the years fly by, certain events loom huge in our minds.
RaveThe Boston GlobeYes, this book lives up to its author’s reputation, and then some. In focusing on Giovanna and her journey, The Lying Life of Adults achieves an energy and warmth sometimes missing in the narratives about Lila and Lenù in the Quartet. And the answer to Ferrante first-time readers: Yes, this picaresque of adolescence set in a Naples of indeterminate chronology deserves a spot on your fall reading list. Giovanna’s fate, containing elements both expected and unexpected, makes her one of this year’s most memorable heroines.
PositiveThe Washington PostWe learn much more about Daniel than Maile, an imbalance that rankles. Tsukiyama makes up for it in part with her wise decision to create sections that dive into earlier history and passages in which she allows the dead to speak. These interstitials not only provide background and crucial information, they also make the 1930s material feel more urgent and contemporary than it otherwise might in a historical novel.
RaveLos Angeles TimesMoreno-Garcia isn’t just rattling off genre signifiers. The author’s postcolonial spin on the gothic tradition evokes the usual suspects: Daphne du Maurier, Emily Brontë, Mary Shelley, even Anne Radcliffe. Like those authors, Moreno-Garcia works in a tradition in which chills and thrills tap into elemental cultural fears — runaway science, carnal passion. But to these she adds a more politically inflected horror, both ancient and timely: A racist will to power ... Moreno-Garcia writes simply in these early pages, her declarative sentences and straightforward descriptions playing against the creeping gloom ... Moreno-Garcia somewhat muddles this history, which is her right as a novelist, adding layers of meaning that highlight the clash between colonial powers and a nation struggling to come into its own ... Sometimes I longed for more about this piece of Mexico’s past, a slightly more direct reckoning with the history. Yet Moreno-Garcia aims not just to edify but to thrill. Readers will cheer as Noemí fights off the nasty Doyles, gasp as they pull her back in ... By the time readers have tiptoed and reeled in Noemí’s well-heeled shoes, the turn from mannered mystery to twisted horror will seem as inevitable as the nightmare logic of a Grimm fairy tale. Yet Mexican Gothic has an ending that turns Western fairy tales upside down. In the process of surprising us one last time, Moreno-Garcia proves that it’s possible to create a believable female protagonist who defies not just the Doyles but the patriarchy of her time — the more polite eugenics of family that didn’t traffic in serpent symbols or dark rites — to fight for what she knows is a more righteous future.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe Jane Austen Society is no Jane Austen novel; its dialogue is not as crisp, its pace a bit flabby. But Jenner keeps things interesting by moving back and forth in time and place as different story lines progress, and by including a few characters Austen could never have anticipated ... Dedicated Janeites will find much to love in these people ... If you’ve never cracked the spine of Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion, you may still adore this sweet, old-fashioned story—but if you do know Austen’s work, you’ll appreciate it all the more. Anyone seeking an antidote to contemporary chaos will find a welcome respite among the members of a group whose outer lives may appear simple, but whose inner lives need the kind of balm Austen knew well.
RaveThe Boston GlobeThe author’s style is spare but thoughtful. Every detail enhances the plot and the atmosphere at once ... For some authors the plot would now be thick enough. Let the quartet eke out survival as their bellies grow and see what happens. But Mackintosh understands that while there may be just two ticket colors in this society, there can be more than two sides to every story ... Mackintosh’s description of Calla’s childbirth will resonate with those who have been through it, and properly terrify those who haven’t ... What may be most memorable about Blue Ticket lies in the concept of women and agency. Calla’s society allows women so little choice about procreation, yet expects all women to have leisure time ... Sophie Mackintosh lays bare many of the fears and realities that face any society’s women as they contemplate when their choices begin, and where they might end.
RaveLos Angeles TimesBennett pours a small kitchen sink of contemporary issues ... Bennett pulls it off brilliantly ... Bennett locks readers in and never lets them go ... Bennett’s method of sliced-up storytelling takes the spotlight away from Stella long enough that by the time this living metaphor returns to the story, it feels honest and earned ... Although Bennett’s essays and fiction undeniably have a social-justice agenda, she leaves any weighty parallels—between, for example, racial and gender determinism—to the reader. Her restraint is the novel’s great strength, and it’s tougher than it looks ... stunning ... One of Bennett’s many small masterstrokes is to put one of the deepest ironies of the book in the mouth of a villain ... The Vanishing Half speaks ultimately of a universal vanishing.
RaveNPR... not only has Pochoda written an immersive, intriguing murder mystery—she\'s also crafted a framework with which we can examine how all women are viewed in Western cultures, sometimes as madonnas, more often as whores ... almost more chilling than the killer\'s actions and motivations is the strange family situation in which he operates, one that is so opposite to the lives of his victims that readers will wonder how they can coexist in the same locale, and one that also shows our society\'s views of women, taken to any extreme, make things bad for us all.
Samanta Schweblin, trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveThe Washington Post...prescient ... All of these stories contain multitudes, making the collection reminiscent of the superb novel-in-stories Here in Berlin, by Cristina García ... the monstrosity Schweblin keeps returning to, and one that is especially relevant since the onset of the covid-19 epidemic, concerns our isolation in the midst of connection ... Little Eyes may function as a sci-fi story, but its central concern is the purpose of humanity. Do we live, in the words of E.M. Forster, to \'only connect?\'
PositiveThe Washington PostEnter Edith, a brilliant, beautiful young Chinese lawyer whose sophisticated presence attracts Ava immediately. Sadly, Dolan does not develop Edith as a character—are we supposed to intuit what makes Ava so interesting to her? Yet the crackling heat Ava feels for Edith is palpable ... Dolan’s real concern: The things we do to stave off being left alone. It is that dive into human consciousness that separates Dolan from the countrywoman to whom she is often compared, novelist Sally Rooney ... While both writers deal with class—offering cutting observations—Dolan pushes further to confront why we put up with it in the first place.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerIt feels right that Irish novelist Naoise Dolan has appropriated part of that co-opted, mangled aphorism for her first book’s title ... Dolan\'s real concern: the things we do to stave off being left alone. It is that dive into human consciousness that separates Dolan from the countrywoman to whom she is often compared, novelist Sally Rooney (Normal People). While both writers deal with class — offering cutting observations — Dolan pushes further to confront why we put up with it in the first place.
Mary Pauline Lowry
RaveThe Washington PostAt a time when epistolary novels seem almost quaint, Roxy’s letters reinvigorate the form. Urgent and witty ... The Roxy Letters functions best as a paean to Austin, that urban paradox of a blue city plopped down in the heart of a red state ... Austin contains a glorious concatenation of tensions, and Lowry employs her heroine as both a catalyst for many of them and an archetypal resident ... Roxy is good for a laugh, but her sincerity is even more affecting, especially when it comes to loving a place that has made insiders of so many outsiders. Reading The Roxy Letters is as refreshing as a dip in Austin’s beloved Barton Springs natural swimming hole, the kind of comic novel we need right now. Not just because it’s fun, funny and filled with eccentrics, but because Lowry’s novel proves that good people working together can make positive changes.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... nominally a work of historical fiction. But its core subject is the kind of unchecked, ravaging despair that follows the death of a child. The author, whose memoir I Am, I Am, I Am covered the near-death experiences of herself and her ailing daughter, understands the parental terror of a child’s suffering ... O’Farrell’s novel isn’t only about grief — or not any more than Hamlet is. The novelist calls our attention to the world around her characters, the sensual, sensory world available to us all (not just Elizabethans) but so often glossed over as we go about mundane tasks. There are lovely metaphors and similes ... Untethered by dates or events, the story loses historicity and gains immediacy, so that even as we know Hamnet will die, we suffer his passing as a shock ... O’Farrell moves through the family’s pain like a master of signs and signals ... In Hamnet, art imitates life not to co-opt reality, but to help us bear it.
MixedThe Washington PostI rode along happily for much of Temple’s book ... Temple makes this melodramatic trope work thanks to her unusual, clipped and very funny style ... She’s a gifted writer and storyteller with an unwavering command of her plot ... The plot she’s chosen remains melodramatic, however ... Olivia is narrating this tale with years of hindsight and more than a little ruefulness ... After going over the events of that summer again and again, she has learned, supposedly the hard way, that believing too much in any one thing can break your heart. That lesson doesn’t amount to much for the reader, though, despite all the promise of Temple’s immense talent.
PositiveNPRReaders who have read and loved Moshfegh\'s Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation may find less to love in this strange, affectless protagonist ... But Death In Her Hands does provide a deep character sketch of one woman\'s unraveling ... Ottessa Moshfegh has crafted an unusual, messy, and fascinating look into the \'little gray cells\' ... Readers who wade through some of the more confusing passages and remember Vesta\'s state will be rewarded by the portrait of a woman that remains in their own, rational minds for a long time.
RaveThe Washington Post... a hilarious, pitch-perfect comedy set in the Brooklyn projects of the late 1960s. This alone may qualify it as one of the year’s best novels. However, McBride has constructed a story with a deeper meaning for those who choose to read beyond the plot, one that makes the work funnier, sweeter and more profound ... not simply a retelling of an ancient epic. McBride revels in constructing a hero’s journey for Sportcoat but that does not mean he relies on typical tropes or traditional endings. If Sportcoat’s finale takes a darker turn, well, it is at least one of his own choosing. There is something to be said for that.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times[Taylor\'s] voice might best be described as a controlled roar of rage and pain, its energy held together by the careful thinking of a mind accustomed to good behavior ... Wallace’s emotional distance seems at first like a narrative barrier but ultimately becomes the fulcrum of the plot ... in Real Life, the dirtiest things described and enacted are not the scenes we’d call \'explicit\'; they are abuse, bigotry and cruelty, expressed in the polite language of a social class Wallace doesn’t want to understand ... Wallace believes he \'isn’t entitled to an answer from the world.\' Neither are we, as readers. Sometimes all we get from the universe — or a quietly revelatory novel — is a faint message, a nudge in the direction of something smaller and infinitely larger than a choice of career or partner. It’s not a path but a way of connecting, without shame or apologies for where we’ve been or what we are.
RaveLos Angeles Times...remarkable and resonant ... Those who have read Offill’s 2014 novel, Dept. of Speculation...will recognize the author’s style, a pastiche of pithy scenes, jokes, adages and ephemera. Like her contemporaries Ben Lerner, Rachel Cusk and Jenny Erpenbeck, Offill eschews traditional storytelling in order to pursue deeper meaning and coherence ... the rhythm of her composition invites you to make your own segues from waltz to jig, hustle to mambo ... Offill’s genius lies in tightly sewing together the small moments that make up a particular life and the huge questions that keep us all awake at night ... The most memorable bits of the book may be the threads that Offill leaves dangling, orphan snippets and jokes you can’t help laughing at.
C. J. Tudor
MixedNPR... falls short of the standard [Tudor] set with the first two ... Does that mean it\'s not worth your time? The answer depends on your reading time. If it\'s severely limited, you might want to wait for Tudor\'s next book, because she\'s such a strong and original writer that she\'ll return to form for sure. But if you have the time to read everything you like, The Other People will delight you with the same creepy atmosphere you expect, set within a slightly shakier plot ... we can see too many of the marionette strings Tudor has in play ... What will keep readers engaged is the menace of the titular conceit and the authenticity of Gabe Forman\'s grief, easily recognized even by those who not experienced such hellacious loss ... Perhaps C. J. Tudor\'s problem, in The Other People, lies in trying to fit a grief to a plot instead of the other way around.
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerFrom this simple premise Reid constructs a plot so beautifully intricate and real and fascinating that readers will forget it’s also full of tough questions about race, class, and identity ... Meanwhile, she consistently challenges readers’ expectations ... With this entertaining novel, Reid subverts our notions of what it means to write about race and class in America, not to mention what it means to write about love. In short, it\'s a great way to kick off 2020.
MixedNPRA quandary: There is an absolutely thrilling dilemma baked into Are You Sleeping, a debut thriller from Kathleen Barber. However, not only can I not discuss it without revealing too much — I\'m not even sure if it\'s meant to be a dilemma, or if it\'s an oversight by the author and her editors. If the former, it could have used more framing; if the latter, someone needs several lashes with a red pencil for overlooking things ... Back to that problem of framing: All of this novel could use more of it ... their characters, like Poppy\'s, and Ellen\'s, and all the rest, are one-dimensional ... What the characters lack in depth the book makes up for in pace. Barber cuts in and out of past and present with expert precision, perhaps evidence of her background as a bankruptcy attorney ... that dilemma. If it\'s deliberate, it\'s one of the most subtle sleights of hand I\'ve seen in a novel of suspense, and proves that there are some places inside the human mind even social media can\'t reach.
Saud Alsanousi Trans. by Sawad Hussain
MixedThe Washington Post... readers unfamiliar with the history of Kuwait and its meld of Arab traditions will be trying to untangle the many untranslated words and phrases that the characters use. On one hand, these integrations strengthen the authenticity of this world; on the other, they interrupt the flow. Translator Sawad Hussain must have made tough decisions while bringing Mama Hissa’s Mice into English, but not all of those decisions work ... Nor do Alsanousi’s. The near-future fight to regain freedom from forces determined to eradicate it is complicated enough. To combine it with a novel-within-a-novel diminishes the urgency of both stories. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a book worth readers’ time. Those who persevere will discover beautiful writing about the Arab world that includes Mama Hissa’s fables ... As a character to be culturally translated, Mama Hissa will challenge readers. She loves her boys, yet she is a creature of her context whose principal insult is to call someone who offends her, including her grandson, a \'Jew\'...Is her continued use of the word meant to unbalance our perceptions of Mama Hissa? Her behavior raises more questions than it answers, as does the rest of the novel, which leaves readers hungry for even more insight into a country and culture rarely considered in Western literature.
RaveThe Washington Post...a British writer who excels at delivering novels about difficult subjects, turns her brilliant, incisive gaze to a boarding school ... It’s a bracing reminder that no matter how obsessively young people measure themselves against one another, their self-worth also comes from the grown-ups around them ... a strange but urgent glimpse into society’s often conflicting expectations of girls.
Johannes Anyuru, Trans by. Saskia Vogel
PositiveNPRAnyuru underscores the reality that even parallel worlds involve global connections ... if I can\'t remember all the language Anyuru uses for how time bends in this speculative world, that\'s because the speculative aspect is the least compelling part of the novel. Which isn\'t to say it\'s poorly done, or unimportant, but that the idea of undoing violence founders when confronted with the specter of hatred ... Each of [Anyuru\'s] characters feels real, whether experiencing friendship and delight or torture and death ... does its job best in speculating about how humans stuck in chronological time can learn from our own mistakes.
PositiveThe Washington PostDescriptions of the recipes she develops and the meals she concocts tantalize ... NDiaye has given deep thought to how a feminine genius might approach cuisine...However, she’s given even deeper thought to how difficult it is for feminine genius to shine and succeed in a man’s world ... might ultimately be a meditation on the impossibility of combining an artistic life with a family life. And yet, the Cheffe makes it work in her own way, and her story feels like it’s being told at just the right time.
John Le Carre
RaveNPRAt 88, novelist John le Carré continues to turn out books that writers of any younger age would kill to publish ... Before turning to What Happens Next, a word about le Carré\'s prose: Not only does it hold the coiled energy of a much younger writer, it fits the bitter, angry narrator\'s voice exceptionally well. That\'s important, because Agent Running in the Field relies less on action than some le Carré titles, and many other spy novels, and more on dialogue. If the author obsesses about betrayal, his mechanism for that obsession is the conversation ... The pre-publication press release tells us this is le Carré\'s \'Brexit novel,\' but that diminishes a novel that may be a portrait in miniature of modern spies, but is in miniature as detailed and astonishing and entertaining as anything in its genre today.
PositiveNPRThe action starts early and keeps going. Walters, a maestra of plot and pace, includes highway robbery, medieval abortifacients, and a locked room full of starving women and children on the road to the book\'s high-stakes denouément. If you want to read The Turn of Midnight simply as a medieval thriller, feel free. However, Walters knows there\'s more. From the conversations between characters to the way she constructs scenes, pitting wrongheaded and status quo-loving dinosaurs against compassionate, reason-seeking types, it\'s clear that the author understands the connections between a dark time from the past and the dark times of our present age ... The Turn of Midnight absolutely works as a mystery novel, one in which the villain is the Black Death.
RaveNPRIt\'s a testament to Locke\'s skill as a novelist that, while a mystery plays out, she\'s able to keep all of Ranger Mathews\'s other life travails relevant ... It\'s not that Locke goes easy on racists or bigots or ignorant types; it\'s that she wants to demonstrate how their idiocy can mask deeper erosion of a part of the world she clearly loves. Deep East Texas and its Highway 59 include some of the few places in the United States where free black societies took hold and flourished ... The world of Highway 59 contains multitudes, rich and poor and booksmart and horse-sense smart and of many races and ethnicities. Readers can rejoice that there are has plenty of volumes possible in the future of a mystery series with atmosphere, depth, and boundless compassion for its characters. Attica Locke combines first-class procedural action with wise contemplation on our country\'s modern divides. Heaven, My Home should be on any mystery lover\'s TBR pile this fall.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe plot and action are matched by the author’s powerful take on the damage colonialism inflicts for generations.
PositiveThe Washington Post... a sweet, quirky family caper about a drug dealer ... You may not wind up loving LaReigne. (Even Marcus has a tough time loving his mother.) But you’ll love Zee ... Zee’s life is no fairy tale, but there’s something moving about the way she lets Gentry live in his version of one ... Real life hurts, but human interactions can work miracles — to some extent. As the fantasy elements of Bryn Greenwood’s The Reckless Oath We Made dissolve, hard work replaces the promise of a magic potion. Someone has to meet with lawyers, sign agreements and make prison visits. That someone is usually Zee, and as she sobers up, literally and figuratively, she turns out to be the hero of her own story.
RaveThe Washington Post...light shines through in almost every line ... This is well-charted territory, but it sings due to Hassman’s joy of text, unusual thinking and clever turns of phrase that allow even half-page \'chapters\' to vibrate with truth ... as Helen discovers her own free will, her adolescent journey offers hope to readers of any age. The book’s final section races along with so much action that, like me, those readers may wish for a sequel, becoming evangelists for a writer with heart.
PositiveThe Washington PostLong stretches of The Vexations read like a prose version of a Satie composition — choppy, evocative, unexpected ... builds to a devastating conclusion, but it’s worth the pain for this unusual, quietly beautiful meditation on the work and strife behind art that has endured for generations.
PositiveNPRHoward Norman writes elegant prose—but really, that\'s because everything about Howard Norman is elegant ... Many a domestic-thriller writer would have taken this fabulous conceit and used it in constructing an unbearably taut tale of psychological angst. But Norman is after different game—not better, necessarily, just different. The Ghost Clause has myriad elements that could spark mystery, investigation, or terror ... Simon is a far from perfect spouse, novelist, or narrator, but he hasn\'t given up on life\'s goodness and pleasures. As he guides you through a season in Adamant, you may find yourself dreaming about taking a sabbatical up north.
Rion Amilcar Scott
RaveThe Washington PostCross River will take on a veracity that rivals any number of real places ... readers new to his work will find this book a world unto itself, both in terms of completeness and in terms of genre ... Scott’s Cross River has been compared to other authors’ imagined places, from Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Jesmyn Ward’s Bois Sauvage (and I would add Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, as well as Black Panther’s Wakanda), but it’s completely his own, forged of deep roots, racial conflict and humor so mordant you’ll do double takes ... his understanding of our country’s racial divide transcends his characters’ experience, but never intrudes on their truth ... These stories range from satire to fantasy to horror and not one of them strikes a false note. There are angry notes. Even, perhaps, hostile ones. But none that are unwarranted. A few readers may be shocked by Scott’s use of cultural epithets, but those are far from unnecessary. We have so far to go and so little time to get there, Scott seems to say. Maybe spending a few hours in Cross River will help build a bridge. Or blow one up, if need be.
RaveThe Washington PostI haven’t seen an accurate representation of that idea—the otherhood of motherhood—until reading Helen Phillips’s novel ... Phillips deftly conveys the physicality of parenting small children ... a book so smart and brave about motherhood can also be very funny ... The slapstick segues seamlessly into visceral moments in which Molly relishes her children’s corporeal selves ... Molly’s struggle to remain her full self while giving so much of herself away is electrifying. Phillips keeps chapters fast, setting scenes but never allowing the threads, or arresting props to hang around too long. Mothers will recognize so much in this fresh novel — but they aren’t the only ones who should read it. Phillips has found a way to make these experiences universal, acknowledging the importance of the other — the creature without whom none of us would exist.
PositiveNPRAt times in the second half of the novel it\'s difficult to distinguish among venues, especially for those who aren\'t intimately familiar with London, with England, with the geography of Yorkshire. However, Horowitz always provides peeks at places tourists might miss, like the higgledy-piggledy architecture of tony Hampstead\'s even tonier Fitzroy Park, where houses have names and no numbers. It\'s also difficult, at times, to distinguish between Horowitz\'s frustration and Hawthorne\'s chiding; sometimes the pair seem as irritating as anyone\'s squabbling parents at the dinner table. However, there\'s just enough intrigue about Hawthorne\'s past and present connections to make a third novel satisfying in concept. Horowitz mimics Golden Age authors (Christie, Allingham, Marsh, Sayers) so well in his books\' scope and denouéments that fans of both puzzle and cozy mysteries will savor the balance of clues and cups of tea (OK, more often pints and cocktails, here) that the author seems to have imbibed like mother\'s milk. The Sentence Is Death should make a bracing, smart addition to your beach bag.
Susan Richards Shreve
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Susan Richards Shreve writes with grace and perspicuity, and, what’s more, dares to write about people of all ages as if each is a human being worthy of our attention. In her new novel, More News Tomorrow, even the youngest character blossoms as an individual in the course of the action. And the oldest, too: The story’s protagonist, Georgianna \'Georgie\' Groves, is about to turn 70. That’s right, an entire book devoted to the story of a senior citizen. How audacious ... Both William and the omniscient narrator obsess over Josie’s weight and the fact that she hasn’t returned to her pre-pregnancy shape; Georgie, likewise, is preoccupied with her image. This superficiality serves little purpose, though, other than to distract from weightier themes. It’s an odd, off-key note in what is otherwise a well-tuned mandolin of a gothic adventure.
RaveThe Washington Post... a startling, compelling historical debut novel from Sara Collins that should be on top of your vacation reading pile ... Collins possesses too much talent and righteous indignation to allow Frannie’s story to fizzle into a poor-girl-of-the-streets fable ... Everything that happens, happens because people of color are not seen as fully human. If Frannie has any power, if Olaudah has any power, it’s due not to their actual gifts — which are considerable — but because they’re pawns for those in charge. Collins’s book is a pointed reminder of the harm unleashed on everyone when human beings are given second-class status.
RaveNPR... stunning ... The situations remain strange in their specificities and universal in their familiarity ... If those beautifully delineated scenes were the whole of Disappearing Earth, it would be enough, at least enough to have some readers nod happily at the author\'s sinuous stories. But Phillips has an endgame ... one woman can write a novel about a country not her own that comes closer in spirit to great American literature than most of the fiction set within U.S. borders.
MixedThe Washington Post... it’s a familiar story; commonplace, even. Hundreds of thousands of people might sketch similar details and timeline from their own ancestry ... An awkward early section attempts to graft magical realism onto a book that is, instead, magically real ... achieves what no sweeping history lesson about American immigrants could: It brings to life a woman that time and history would have ignored. That doesn’t quite split the world open, but it creates a big enough fissure to let the light in.
RaveThe Washington Post... makes me want to shout with joy. Russell’s ease with her material, her sheer glee on the page, shines through in each piece. There are just eight stories here, but each one holds a tiny, complete vision: eight delicious wedges of an orange ... voices and personae grab readers by their figurative lapels and demand attention ... I was struck by how she pays homage to her fantasy and science-fiction predecessors ... Russell’s assurance now extends to honoring those who helped her master a genre ... we’re in the hands of a master.
PositiveThe Washington Post...funny, wise and weighty ... One of the funniest stories concerns a woman who farts during an important presentation — only to find herself swallowed up by a black hole populated with other women in similar states of humiliation and shame. Not only does the story tap into something real, it recalls those endlessly popular women’s magazine staples in which readers share their most embarrassing moments ... It may make you put Roar down for a while so you can think about what the word \'woman\' really means and why the roars women make sound so similar ... It’s best to read just one or two of Ahern’s fables at a time. That way you can truly appreciate their wit, pathos and imagination.
MixedThe Washington PostMoyes’s novel has more in common with her The Ship of Brides than it does with Me Before You Moyes doesn’t let readers get to know Suzanna any more than she lets them sink into Athene’s story. On the plus side, the author clearly doesn’t want to focus on frippery. She’s after something bigger ... Are you confused? You’re not alone. The action moves from continent to continent and decade to decade more and more feverishly ... One of my quarrels with The Peacock Emporium is that, at the end, I wanted more of Athene’s story, which felt more emotionally profound given her culturally inhibited choices ... Moyes has tons of material. Perhaps in her next novel she’ll use it to more satisfying effect.
PositiveThe Washington Post... even if Lorna Landvik’s latest novel might be described as a little cutesy and a little long-winded, it has substance and purpose ... a real tribute to all of the small-town, warmhearted, big-mouthed \'radical hags\' out there, and a truly fun read for them, too.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"... seems to channel all of the frustrations [Langsdorf] felt juggling her identities as a mother and creator in a stifling suburb ... all smart, satiric fun, the kind of comic novel that helps us see our own foibles while we’re laughing at those of others ... The story does feel perfectly timed, not just in terms of real estate booms, but in the way warring factions sprout up and become stubbornly entrenched. And yet, the comedy of it all softens the ominous undertones.\
MixedNPR... where Bird Box electrified by keeping readers as much in the dark as its blindfolded protagonist Malorie, Inspection leans too early and too quickly toward why the boys will revolt ... Unfortunately, Malerman spends so much time in the first half of the book describing the boys\' routines that much less time is given to those of the girls. Really, \'twas it ever thus? You\'d think, as a modern writer, that Malerman would avoid such an obvious pothole, especially because it\'s ultimately the girls whose complicated ideas provide one of the most chilling scenes ... The conceit behind Inspection is a big one, an original one. Malerman has a lot of big ideas and a lot of original ideas, and if Inspection isn\'t as electrifying as Bird Box or surprising as Unbury Carol, I\'m pretty sure his next one, or the one after that, will be superb.
RaveNPR\"Carve out some reading time before you pick up Laila Lalami\'s new novel The Other Americans. You won\'t want to get up from your chair for some time, maybe even until you\'ve reached the last page. You\'re in the hands of a maestra of literary fiction, someone who has combined a riveting police procedural with a sensitive examination of contemporary life in California\'s Mojave Desert region ... [Lalami is] superb at creating different cadences on the page, recognizing that even when speaking in a relatively similar tone, people\'s voices carry ... if someone asked me to name one book I think at least grapples with the problem of trying to be The Great American Novel, I\'d name The Other Americans ... excellent ...\
MixedThe Washington Post\"... a comedy of Northwest manners, as if Where’d You Go, Bernadette? had been written after a long alcoholic weekend, an exquisite corpse cobbled together by a raucous, sophisticated group of writing instructors. But does it add up to anything coherent? Maybe not ... And the dialogue, oh how it singes and sears! ... James is a writer to watch, one with a fresh take on American flaws and virtues that nevertheless feels old-school screwball.\
PositiveNPR\"Kate Quinn\'s The Huntress runs on a bit too long, but once you\'ve read her Author\'s Note and understand that many of her characters are based on real people, real people who include the craven and the heroic, you\'ll understand why Quinn has stuffed her book with plot. You\'ll also see, I hope, that The Huntress reads like the best World War II fiction, stories in which that war means many people had to inhabit gray areas even after it was over ... So a bit long [the novel] may be. It\'s still engrossing, suspenseful, and authentic, a book to give you a new perspective on women, war, and the wheels of justice.\
PositiveTime\"The reader’s only way to learn about these women is through his male voice — a setup that both heightens the injustice of the women’s situation and keeps readers at a distance from what they think and feel. But even through the filter of a male narrator, Toews shows us how these women, who can’t read or write, are capable of great reasoning and philosophy ... Toews infuses the women’s humor, from broad to subtle, as the group constructs a plan. Even in the midst of their toughest conversations, they cackle together...\
MixedThe Washington Post\"... [Lipman is] pulling off a clever trick, though it may not be evident until the last page ... The characters in Good Riddance don’t necessarily develop ... It would be easy, and not messy at all, to say this isn’t Lipman’s best novel ... However, when you come to the end of Good Riddance, you might disagree, and you’ll definitely be delighted. Can an entire book function as a shaggy-dog story? My answer is yes, although for me that twist ending wasn’t necessarily worth the trip. What was: Lipman’s portrait of Daphne ... Despite her complaining, Daphne is an intriguing heroine, and if you love Lipman’s work, you may love her, too.\
PositiveThe Washington Post\"It’s a vivid tale, though not always an easy one. Oseland is just old enough to have felt the sexual unshackling that presaged the AIDS decades, and has lived to tell us his truth, which is anything but neurotic.\
PositiveTIMESmyth finds a way to translate how fiction helps us understand that formlessness, and the way in which even the death of a close relative, especially in a sanitized hospital setting, can feel remote and inaccessible ... In writing her own book, Smyth has discovered a way to appreciate the changing leaves, one that works both as memoir and as an aid to those who mourn.
MixedNPR\"... Barton has pulled off the trick of writing a series whose individual volumes still deserve reviews ... But The Suspect, despite its interesting and intricate murder plot, falls short of its predecessors because Barton tries to do too much with too many characters ... The Suspect does not represent a sophomore slump; first, it\'s Barton\'s third book, and second, the slicing and dicing between perspectives (which include Waters, parents of the girls, and two young men) feels like less of a writing issue and more like an editing issue ... Another piece of cardboard: Friends who conform to \'good girl\' and \'bad girl\' stereotypes. The setup for the young women\'s falling out feels like a sitcom device, and while these pairs do exist in real life, their dynamic here feels as forced as the parents\' dialogue ... In The Suspect, the setup and setting are original, but the action is hampered by too much stage business. If you\'ve never read Barton\'s work, start with her first two novels. If you loved those books, join me in waiting for her fourth.\
Matias Faldbakken, trans. by Alice Menzies
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"The Waiter by Norwegian artist Matias Faldbakken uses a group of zany eccentrics and their favorite shabby, old-world restaurant to zero in on a contemporary danger. Faldbakken’s novel contains so many oddities, strange characters and bizarre details that it’s easy to read it as a romp through a lost Europe where fine china and artistic graffiti both had their places in upper-class restaurants ... If you follow the author’s clues, you may feel a chill up your spine. You may see the waiter in a different light. Maybe. Just because the clues are there doesn’t mean they’ve been used to best effect. You can read this surprising book several different ways.
RaveThe Washington PostLove crime fiction? Love historical fiction? Have I got a book for you ... will keep you on the edge of your seat and maybe even wondering if you’ve lost your mind. Sexy, fun, serious and unputdownable.
PositiveThe Washington PostAnother writer might have focused simply on this mystery, perfectly sound material as it is. Harvey, however, wants to dig deeper in her version of Life in a Medieval Village: its monotony, in a bored priest’s recounting of confessions; its superstitions, including the Lenten draping of a Christ figure with a shawl to keep him warm; its amusements, such as the not-so-private lovemaking ... By the time we find out how Tom Newman died, we’re less interested in a mystery solved and more intrigued by the fate of a long-gone place, a place that Harvey brings to life from its historical tomb.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Helen Schulman’s Come With Me delves into the interplay of technology and relationships with edgy, upsetting and tragic results. And yet, the story is also warm, wise and witty ... While Maryam is an interesting character, her portions tend to drag and dominate. More time could be spent on Jack and Lily, for example, whose relationship defines the book in an important way, but who become something of a sad joke, especially once Lily \'attends\' a funeral via Skype ... Come With Me respects the human right to feel more than one thing at one time: Sadness and amusement, love and hate, edginess and safety. It’s the kind of all-encompassing acceptance that makes the book feel both contemporary and classic.\
RaveNPR\"Of course all will be revealed—the difference in the doing, McDermid-style, involves developing location, character, and props in perfect proportion ... McDermid, known as \'The Queen of Crime,\' doesn\'t really need her work reviewed again. Her books consistently satisfy, after all. But the reason critics continue to cover her output is due to the fact that those books consistently challenge: The status quo, the patriarchy, complacency, Western ignorance, you name it ... Pirie understands that life is all about balance. Wonderfully, her creator Val McDermid knows that the best mystery novels are, too.\
RaveTime\"Once again few words go to waste in [Hall\'s] new book, Trinity, a brilliant imagining of how the details omitted from one notorious man’s story might define him more fully than the broad strokes we already know ... Trinity sounds a wake-up call to those who have failed to ease the threat of planetary destruction through a slowness to effect controls on fossil fuels, other environmental dangers and, indeed, nuclear weapons. If they took action, the world would change. Oppenheimer changed course in his own life–and through Hall’s imagined reading of his mind, she shows us that we still can too.\
RaveNPR\"Boyne\'s mastery of perspective, last seen in 2017\'s The Heart\'s Invisible Furies, works beautifully here ... it seems almost impossible to enjoy reading A Ladder to the Sky as much as you definitely will enjoy reading it ... John Boyne\'s ambition in writing a comic novel about a nasty writer — that\'s nothing new. But John Boyne\'s ambition in writing a comic novel about a nasty writer with no scruples who never repents that will make you chuckle morbidly until the last line? That\'s ambition fulfilled.\
PositiveNPRA book combining literary sensibility with genre readability ... when I cracked open Lea Carpenter\'s Red, White, Blue a few weeks ago, I was thrilled ... you\'ll have to slow down a little, at least at first, to take in Carpenter\'s modus operandi ... many of the book\'s brief, taut chapters are narrated by [Anna\'s father] as he attempts to glean information from Anna without alerting her to the fact that there\'s a serious exfiltration in place ... While that is a seriously good setup, I found myself much more captivated by the nameless narrator\'s descriptions of CIA life ... What doesn\'t work as well as the espionage talk is the character development ... However, that may be deliberate. Carpenter is concerned with truth — and not in a simple way ... Some novels are elegant in theory, but bloody in practice, too — Red, White, Blue tries something new in mashing together high concepts and low blows.
RaveTIMEReading Wayétu Moore’s debut novel, She Would Be King...feels a lot like watching a superb athlete’s performance ... Moore makes deft use of magical realism, and her plot and its details are compelling ... Like her remarkable protagonist Gbessa, the author has tapped into her own backstory–and emerged with literary superpowers.
PositiveThe Washington PostThought-provoking and relevant, Sofka Zinovieff’s new novel Putney will provide plenty of book groups with fodder for discussions about female sexuality ... The story is a nuanced portrayal of the relationship between a 30-year-old man and a 13-year-old girl, but it’s less Lolita than an homage to The Constant Nymph ... Putney may not ultimately offer justice, but it does offer closure, which for some victims may be just as cathartic.
MixedNPRWhile all Iraqis will readily agree that their life has always been noir, the majority of the stories in Baghdad Noir are set in the years following the American invasion of 2003,\' ... These stories deal with subjects from militia insurrection to a mental hospital to orders from mujahideen to honor killings; what struck me about them was how firmly each story is cemented in Iraqi culture, but how little a sense of geography they allow. I don\'t think that\'s accidental, although it may be subconscious. In a city torn apart by history, religion, armies, and insurrection, a sense of geography isn\'t easy to give — sometimes, as in The Apartment by Salih, a character has so much trouble just crossing from one side of town to the other that tragedy ensues ... Yes, some of these stories go on too long, or have uneven structures, or leave out details that might make them stronger, but I was captivated by seeing how different they all were.
RaveNPRThe Man Who Came Uptown is the first novel from the acclaimed master of Washington, D.C. noir George Pelecanos that might be deemed literary fiction instead of thriller. Don\'t worry, Pelecanos fans. This book still contains plenty of action ... To see Pelecanos make this turn is wonderful. He\'s always been an incisive and elegant writer. Now he has reached a different level ... These are minor quibbles, really, about a book that is a modern storytelling master\'s paean to the power of books, literature, librarians, and booksellers ... The Man Who Came Uptown will be welcomed by longtime George Pelecanos readers, but it shouldn\'t be missed by those who haven\'t enjoyed his work before, either.
MixedNPR\"Very few of the characters completely gel, either through description or in the reader\'s head. Sometimes being thrown into the middle of things ratchets up the tension — but here, in a novel where the body isn\'t discovered for hundreds of pages, it feels off-kilter ... Even if French skimps on character development and overdoes the lead up, her atmosphere and dialogue will keep you reading, reading, reading ... The last 100 pages of The Witch Elm feel like the heart of the novel, and although that\'s a bit unexpected, well, it might be what French intended.\
PositiveThe Washington PostBarker’s novel... raises the stakes for all historical writing in that it reminds us to do as Abigail Adams urged her husband: \'Remember the ladies\' ... The Silence of the Girls is a novel that allows those who were dismissed as girls—the women trapped in a celebrated historical war—to speak, to be heard, to bear witness. In doing so, Barker has once again written something surprising and eloquent that speaks to our times while describing those long gone.
PositiveLos Angeles Times\"The most delicious moments in Crudo are not necessarily the direct quotes from Acker, which are attributed in the endnotes, but those that reflect a wry wickedness back on them both ... Laing’s novel does not shock. Laing/Acker bemoans her forays into conventionality and also cherishes them ... While critics have noted the current events in the novel, it spends as much time grappling with intimacy ... instead of knocking a writer off the stage, Olivia Laing has employed a subtler move and used Kathy Acker’s powerful voice to amplify her own.\
Laura Van Den Berg
RaveTIMEThe Third Hotel contains all of the ingredients for a classic work of horror. But van den Berg is up to so much more than that ... Things go bump in the night, and so do ideas, with the overall effect that readers will be as unsettled as the protagonist at every turn. Clare tells us on the first page, \'I am experiencing a dislocation of reality,\' an excellent description of grief, but also of modern Havana ... Van den Berg throws Clare again and again into uneasy situations with inexplicable outcomes; this author has no fear of magical realism—and while she’s already been compared to giants of the genre, The Third Hotel owes its eerie power to no one else ... Not every author can make a character both fly through supernatural events and remain grounded in a place the way van den Berg does with Clare.
MixedThe Washington Post\"There will be domestic violence, death on horseback, repressed homosexuality, expressed homosexuality, dreadful poverty, adultery, theft, envy and, above all, enough details about interior decoration to make an Architectural Digest editor scream in ecstasy ... Everyone loves a good soap opera. But watching Goolrick’s real talent and compassion peep through the floorlength drapes of overwriting feels like seeing Dr. Oz behind his curtain ... The theatricality of the truth is more than enough without the added melodrama.\
MixedThe Washington PostThe title, which means \'shore\' in Italian, is what Europeans call open-air swimming pools, and it’s where Rosemary, a Brixton octogenarian, swims nearly every day, in all kinds of weather. She’s committed, both because she’s built a community there and because it reminds her of her late husband, George ... Buried in the author’s sometimes plodding style lies an unusually poignant tale of married love as the novel looks back at Rosemary and George’s union. The couple, childless and working class, are the type of people whose stories are rarely told on this side of the Atlantic; perhaps that’s why some of us watch terrible British movies like \'Finding Your Feet.\' Those stories pay attention to older, wrinkled, quirky people whose wardrobes are as limited as their incomes. How refreshing, especially since there shouldn’t be an age limit on uplift.
PositiveNPR\"Abbott has once again gifted her audience with a remarkably unreliable narrator, in this case a woman whose single-minded focus on professional success blinds her to real danger, and vital truths ... Give Me Your Hand sees heads aflame, more than once. The best part of this slow-burning novel is that just when you think you\'ve seen the explosion, another one happens — and you definitely won\'t guess the last, no matter what foreshadowing exists.\
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune[Giffin] is reaching deeper into the zeitgeist with All We Ever Wanted. [Giffin wirtes] truly excellent dialogue ... There are losses in All We Ever Wanted, but there are also gains, and not the ones you might expect. Giffin\'s novel has style and substance – a worthy addition to your summer reading stack.
PositiveThe Washington PostIf Alexander McCall Smith’s and Maeve Binchy’s novels had a love child, the result would be the work of Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. His new book, Us Against You continues the saga of a small place that readers fell in love with in Beartown (2017) ... If you have no interest in hockey, you might assume you’ll have no interest in this novel. You would be wrong.
PositiveNPROn the morning I read Jim Crace\'s new novel The Melody, I was in our living room when I heard them: bells. Chiming over and over again, from I knew not where. It felt as if the book itself had created an atmosphere around me, as if I\'d entered its world involuntarily — and I wasn\'t surprised ... Crace as author owns wiles far ahead of any reader\'s ... We might be rich or poor, young or old, fast or slow—but we each have a voice. To what end do we use it? The possibilities are haunting, and so is Crace\'s message, around which he has invented an entire world: We are only as meaningful as the help we give to others.
PositiveTime Magazinedeparting from an era in which so-called chick lit so often reinforced gender stereotypes, [When Life Gives You Lululemons] prove more adept at framing individual women as whole and human than [previously] ... There’s just one glaring problem... [Greenwich, Connecticut is] inhabited only by the white and well-to-do... I could spend all day imagining titles for more inclusive sequels, like Is That Too Much to Ask?
PositiveThe Washington PostCohen details big tech precisely, from deskside snacks and drugs (almonds, Ativan) to upstairs vs. downstairs (C-suite, shipping). But the best part of her novel is its global view on gadgetry. When Shelley decides to follow her nose — okay, her ear — from home to halfway around the world, she discovers something that not even her Conch can figure out.
Fuminori Nakamura, Trans. by Kalau Almony
PositiveNPR\"Caveat lector: Some of the explicit sex scenes in Fuminori Nakamura\'s new novel Cult X will disturb you. Whether that\'s because they embarrass you or turn you on or both is very much beside the point ... A doomsday cult called Aum Shinrikyo, led by a man named Shoko Asahara, planned and carried out the fatal attacks — in large part to prevent police investigations into their inner workings. No spoilers here as to what happened afterwards, especially as Nakamura imagines it differently — and that\'s what makes Cult X worth reading ... you\'ll think about Nakamura\'s questions long after you\'ve closed his book\'s covers. He uses the conventions of a genre to prop up a tent for big ideas about groupthink and individual responsibility. If you feel a few frissons along the way? Consider how easily you might be seduced into a cult, and then take a long, cold shower.\
PositiveThe Washington Post[A]nyone will enjoy this comically fast-paced tale about Will Dando, who wakes up one day with 108 wacky and world-shattering predictions.
Jo Nesbø, Trans. by Don Bartlett
PositiveNPRAs the action ratchets up, readers may notice that this Macbeth entertains best when it veers off from Shakespeare's plot. Nesbo does what he does very well: The crazy drug bust that goes sideways proves this (it also makes Macbeth a hero, which later will prove equally crazy). What Nesbo doesn't do very well is discern the point of Shakespeare's tragedy. There's so much action that readers will be hard put to decide what matters most, the corruption of a community, or the rotting of a relationship ... While Nesbo's adaptation sings when he departs from the original script, it also takes him farther from the original's core, a tragedy in which hubris takes down the protagonist ... Which isn't to say there isn't a lot to like. Nesbo fans won't care one bit about the un-Shakespearean aspects of his Macbeth. They'll be rapt watching Macbeth grow more and more venal, like Walter White in Breaking Bad ... In other words, Nesbo has adhered to his contract, delivering a book that plays off of Shakespeare's work but succeeds as his own. Will readers love it or hate it? That depends on why they read it.
MixedNPR\"Unfortunately, the author\'s attempts to fix Lucy as potentially criminal are less successful than her depiction of Lucy immersed in Moroccan culture ... I wondered how the book might read if Lucy were the sole narrator. That wondering is less a sign that it should have been written in that fashion than one I was not wholly engaged in the story. Alice\'s dithering annoyed me ... Classic writers of thick, Gothic suspense like Highsmith and Du Maurier knew how to match psychology and setting. Towards the end of Tangerine I hoped, for a moment, that Mangan would integrate Lucy\'s motives with her surroundings, that character and reader would both become lost in a chaotic bazaar filled with both possibility and purgatory. While that didn\'t happen, who knows what Christine Mangan will write next? Something, I hope, with a strong female protagonist and another fascinating location.\
PositiveThe Washington PostIs Jacobs about to lead readers on a choose-your-own-adventure chase? In a way, yes. This debut mystery is fun but not necessarily light ... Nova Jacobs has penned a novel that is anything but clueless, filled with consideration and compassion for the different levels of human damage and comprehension.
PositiveThe InquirerThis debut mystery is fun but not necessarily light ... If, occasionally, going down the rabbit hole with Hazel seems digressive, that is all right. It staves off some heart-rending sad realities on the surface. Hazel and Alex get closer and closer to understanding Grandfather Isaac’s 'last equation,' and it is a doozy — one that might explain Isaac’s death and many others as well. Nova Jacobs has penned a novel that is anything but clueless, filled with consideration and compassion for the different levels of human damage and comprehension.
RaveLos Angeles Times\"Shobha Rao writes cleanly and eloquently about women who, without their brightness, might have been left to die in their beds. She writes them into life, into existence, into the light of day.\
Hallgrímur Helgason, Trans. by Brian FitzGibbon
RaveThe Washington PostHallgrimur Helgason’s novel Woman at 1,000 Degrees centers on Herra, an 80-year-old Icelandic woman waiting to die in a garage with an old hand grenade and a laptop ... This is, in part, a comic novel in the vein of Helgason’s global bestseller 101 Reykjavik. But Woman at 1,000 Degrees contains a variety of tones as Herra moves back and forth through the decades of her life, with an emphasis on World War II ... The life she leads is tragic, and in the end, readers will understand why Herra clutches her grenade so close ... She is the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, but her perspective might be just what we need in these uncertain times: She survives and shares her story on her terms. And what a story it is, one worth reading to further understand the complexity of World War II — and to enjoy the quick wit of a woman you won’t forget.
PositiveThe Barnes and Noble Review...a deeply funny and deeply affecting look at the twenty-first-century personnel machinations of a Manhattan market research firm’s HR department ... The stories intertwine and then untangle and then merge again with emotion and meaning. The five protagonists each have different information to provide about the others, and while This Could Hurt is not The Alexandria Quartet, Medoff uses their braided revelations to heighten the drama behind each storyline ... A less generous novel might have been willing to sacrifice its characters in pursuit of the bottom line of social satire, but Medoff seems committed to treating her creations as more than human resources.
Edward St. Aubyn
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesIf it all sounds a bit melodramatic, that’s because it is — Shakespeare (whoever he/they might have been) had the advantage of a facility with language the likes of which has not been seen in English literature for centuries. While St. Aubyn is an elegant and at times even superlative prose stylist, his 21st century verbiage cannot live up to his predecessor’s ... Similarly, unlike the finale of Lear, the race to Dunbar’s finish line would make an excellent episode of Dynasty even though St. Aubyn has cut out a great deal of the political conspiring from King Lear; he can’t cut out the chase without sacrificing meaning. Fortunately, St. Aubyn shines at skewering the rich and profligate ... that is where the current author shines his light most beautifully — and also most usefully: on the aftermath of tragedy.
Gerbrand Bakker, Trans. by David Colmer
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneNovelist Gerbrand Bakker's considerable achievement is to take a character and location that might work in a Breughel painting and make them thoroughly relevant and contemporary. But while this prize-winning novel's setting is bucolic, Helmer's actions speak more to universal flaws than to pastoral. He closets his aging, infirm father in an upstairs bedroom; he snubs his flirtatious and generous neighbor; he agonizes over the slightest change of status quo yet dreams of release. Why? All is revealed, slowly, and with a wonderfully quirky, misanthropic deliberation.
PositiveNewsdayAll this is the stuff of many, many novels about young women, and readers will need to be somewhat patient as the author constructs Julia’s narrative voice — one with authority, yet almost no understanding. Julia knows how this story will end but remains a callow adolescent ... The Burning Girl asks us to look hard at what we imagine about others and their lives before we take action or profess friendship. It’s an unflinching examination of how little we can do to save anyone else.
PositiveNPRBetween the eerie landscape — concrete high-rises, smudgy horizons, unknown flora hanging above cobblestoned streets — and the curious people dogging their every move, the suspenseful parts work. What doesn't work, and it pains me to say this as so much of the book is good, is the backstory of Alexandra's brother, Jack...That's not because the writing is awkward in the backstory scenes, but because the book's beating heart is in Bulgaria, and each time we stray back to Alexandra's family in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we lose that focus. Fortunately, there are compensations. In the second part of the novel, several chapters go back to Stoyan Lazarov and his enigmatic sister-in-law Irina Georgievna's life during World War II, and in these, Kostova captures not just the rhythms of Bulgaria's everyday past, but its proud and uneven political history, too ... When Kostova focuses on that beauty, through characters' reminiscences, folktales, poetry, and news, her book transcends its covers and offers readers a glimpse of her own heart.
RaveNPRBarton moves the story along with the same alacrity she used for The Widow, a method that works particularly well for this slightly quieter book ... The Child isn't a book about journalism — any more than The Girl on the Train is a book about alcoholism, or Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a book about being an orphan. Like her fellow novelists, Fiona Barton knows showing is better than telling because it allows for the reader's perspective. When the stories from Angela and Emma converge, whether the conclusion occasions a shock or an 'aha!' doesn't matter; it's satisfying due to all the work that's gone into its discovery.
RaveThe Washington PostEnvy the reader of Before the War who has never read anything by Fay Weldon. That reader is about to be changed by Weldon’s trademark voice ... One of Weldon’s great themes returns, too: The difference between plain women (such as Vivvie) and pretty ones (such as Adela), a subject that proceeds into a new generation with just as much vigor as it has through the author’s previous books ... Old and new readers of Fay Weldon should heed her call because this is a feminist continuing to engage with her culture’s shortcomings and having an awful lot of fun along the way.
RaveNPR...disturbing, amazing, masterful ... While Dustin trolls his past for truth and, a more sinister storyline emerges. Chaon fans who have read his previous novels will be pleased to know that, as is his wont, the author waits until the uncanniest moment to loop characters and plots together, providing a frightening finish. Nothing is resolved and not everything is explained, but that matters very little.
RaveThe Washington PostElinor Lipman applies her singular brand of warm zaniness to Faith’s dilemma in On Turpentine Lane. While our heroine struggles to find love, independence and the 411 on those babies, the novel’s fast, funny dialogue keeps things light ... What is a surprise is how much drama attends this simple plan, how much goes on in even the tiniest community, how many twists and turns a seemingly ordinary life can involve. Lipman has taken lessons from our great chroniclers of the quotidian, from Geoffrey Chaucer to Jane Austen. The result, in On Turpentine Lane, provides a light but serious antidote to what ails us all these days.
PositiveThe Washington Post...unfortunately Flagg doesn’t include a genealogy of the whole town. There’s a lot to keep track of when your characters include the living and the dead ... The patriarch is awake but firmly ensconced in his coffin. He isn’t alone there for long, as Katrina joins him in 1916 — and soon the conversation at Still Meadows cemetery starts percolating. Most of it is as cheerful and smooth-edged as the old-fashioned citizens ... Pull your afghan a little closer, and let’s hope this author’s energy doesn’t flag anytime soon.
MixedNPR...a suspense novel with a female protagonist that gets more right about women than so many others I've read in the past few years ... One of my problems with this unusual and affecting novel is that it takes far too long for us to learn about the more serious bullying Chizuru endures ... Luce pulls the story back and makes it about a flip side of death. While that scenario is moving, it never properly connects back to the original death in the book, that of Rio's mother ... However, the novel's ending, in Japan, and with a family that gives new meaning to 'the kindness of strangers,' does connect to Rio's running and to her body in a satisfying way.
Martin Cruz Smith
PositiveNPRThe trick of this book is that everything is predictable, and yet nothing is stale...The Girl from Venice sails on its characters' vitality: Cenzo's decency, Giulia's canny verve, Giorgio's brash ignorance ... The Girl from Venice should appeal broadly to fans of World War II fiction, but it will also serve as a tonic to those who are weary of terribly complex plots requiring flow charts and genealogies. Writers are often exhorted to write the book they want to read, and it seems Martin Cruz Smith has done just that, to everyone's benefit.
RaveThe Washington Post...[a] fantastic debut novel ... The genius of The Mothers is how Bennett uses those feelings in service to a story that could take place in any part of American society ... Bennett takes the common experience of unwanted pregnancy and makes it newly significant through the lens of a tight-knit community still blinking from its emergence into safety and prosperity ... Bennett has written that rare combination: a book that feels alive on the page and rich for later consideration.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] quietly affecting new novel ... The paths to their stories are winding, but Vapnyar’s humor and perspective keep the reader rooting for these strangers in a strange land who, despite their travails, are 'still here,' still Americans, still kicking, screaming and struggling their ways to individuation.
PositiveNPRYou might come to Missing, Presumed for the police procedural; you'll stay for the layered, authentic characters that Steiner brings to life ... the thoughtful, well-paced conclusion that Steiner gives to Missing, Presumed [is] weirdly audacious. The voices of women take center stage, and all of them achieve some kind of peace ... That's what matters to Steiner — character. It's more than enough to make this book matter to readers, even if it occasionally gets bogged down in ticking off boxes.
MixedThe Washington PostUnfortunately, all of the present-day distress overshadows the final reveal. By the time readers discover what really happened on that 'ordinary day,' we’re preoccupied with things going on in the present. What will happen to Erika’s mum? Is Clementine going to win an orchestra seat? Can Tiffany steer her little family in the right direction? Even faster alternating chapters don’t help. Still, Moriarty is a deft storyteller who creates believable, relatable characters.
Ben H. Winters
PositiveNPRWinters reels readers in with details like Victor's tiny tracking implant and letting another character reference a 'Mockingbird mentality' referring to 'that novel' — quiet ways of letting us in on the changed future ... Most readers will happily overlook the cookie-cutter details as they'll be caught up in the alternate nation the author has created, one in which Texas went to war against the Union to fight for abolition, in which Montreal has become a Francophile haven for escaped slaves, in which some states have old-fashioned towns that keep Jim Crow statutes.
PositiveNPRThe end of the book is nostalgic and perhaps a soupçon pat, unless you pay attention to how Furst refers back to the links of his story's chain. There are villains. There are people who use each other. There are obligatory sex scenes and yet, and yet — in the midst of one that's naughtier-than-usual, Mathieu remarks to his lover Joëlle that 'Women are just as wicked as men, even worse, once they feel free.' So much of Furst's strengths, past and future, rest in this statement: The knowledge of human nature, the belief in liberty, and the understanding that women can be men's equals in courage as well as pleasure. Instead of a book where characters mourn bygone pleasures, in A Hero of France they savor the fleeting ones of the present.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAmend’s novel manages to encompass a woman’s life, the story of a marriage, a tense standoff between Allied and Axis operatives, and a sensitive examination of women’s friendship. Not all of these succeed equally, but Enchanted Islands is still a thought-provoking read ... Her unusual story should get top billing in your seasonal TBR pile.
PositiveThe Washington PostHowever messy this sophomore effort may get in its middle, by the end, when Joan’s secret is revealed, the novel regains its power by suggesting how a mid-20th-century woman’s desires and needs could trap her. Joan, much loved and much criticized by Cece, emerges as a spectacularly tragic figure. The After Party reads like a postmortem of more than just two women’s lives and promises very good things to come from DiSclafani.
MixedNPRIf Hilton is after money, no one can blame her. However, it would be so interesting if the very smart and clearly savvy writer had something else up her designer sleeve. The last line of Maestra is 'To Be Continued.' (That's not a spoiler; everyone knows it's a trilogy!) Might we see more of and a different side to Judith's rage? What if she has an amazing endgame? Hilton has put just enough on the intriguing side of her scales that many readers will keep following Judith's adventures. The real maestra of this novel isn't its main character, but its author.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe way the story jumps around and collapses time can be disconcerting. Mimi is narrating from old age, and just as the eventual flooding of the farmland jumbles everything in its wake, Mimi’s mind floods with scenes and moments in a way that makes sense to her but not always to us. For example, she spends a great deal of time talking about her high school love, Steven, but little time describing another man who will be very important to her. Fortunately, this doesn’t distract from the matriarchal theme at the heart of Miller’s Valley.
RaveNPRFaye hasn't embarked on a retelling of Brontë's masterwork, or anyone else's, for that matter. Her novel pays homage to the greats, yet offers a heroine whose murky past and murderous present remind us that some female behavior in other eras never made it into print.
RaveThe Washington Post[A]s the foolhardy little group in The Relic Master marches toward Chambery and a nearly impossible mission, Buckley hikes up his satiric skirt a tad to show a bit of his tender side. Yes, he demonstrates — hilariously — how abusive religious institutions can be, how bad things can get when church and state are intertwined and how cruelly humans can act at their worst. But he also longs for justice and peace. He especially wants rest for the weary, and readers will cheer when that occurs, but they won’t be weary of reading this lively, entertaining and occasionally educational novel.
PositiveNPRA few critics have noted that Barton tips her hand too soon. While that might be a first-time novelist's mistake, it might also be the deliberate work of a professional observer who knows that the lies we tell ourselves can be more devastating than those we tell others.