PositiveBooklistSmith... uses elegant metaphors and brings Valetto to life with a gift for symmetry and a dash of humor. His sense of place is strong ... This accomplished novel offers engaging characterization paired with echoes of the past that resound in the present.
RaveBooklist\"See creates a cultural smorgasbord as she adeptly depicts the strict delineation and separation of the sexes and the minute details of the social hierarchy, especially among the women, from wives to concubines, widows, daughters, and servants. Based on the writings of an historical Ming dynasty female physician, See’s accomplished novel immerses readers in a fascinating life lived within a fascinating culture.\
Laurie Lico Albanese
PositiveBooklistDescriptions of how synesthetes perceive and the creativity of Isobel’s needlework are engaging and aid in character development. With a subplot about Isobel’s Black neighbors, who have secrets of their own, Albanese’s novel will engage readers seeking racial themes, a resilient heroine, and a feminist origin story for one of America’s always relevant nineteenth-century classics.
PositiveBooklistRomantic tension with an asylum doctor and suspense as to Nellie’s release combine with Treger’s use of the real-life Bly’s famous \'stunt journalism\' to highlight the horrific plight of endangered women—many perfectly sane but inconvenient wives, prostitutes, and immigrants were deemed insane—and the appalling state of nineteenth-century mental health care...YAs will be drawn to the plucky protagonist of Treger’s biographical novel and her fight to right injustices and effect social change.
RaveBooklistRazak’s first novel follows the family and country through upheaval and loss, terrible brutality, and moments of beauty and kindness. The depth of characterization is remarkable, as is the evocation of place, solidly anchored through touch, scent, and especially taste—thick, oiled hair plaited by deft fingers, the perfume of jasmine wilting in summer heat, the flavor of crispy-sweet jalebi. This is a devastating yet vital tale of suffering and strength from an exceptional debut author.
PositiveThe Historical Novel SocietyReaders may find the plot \'twists,\' perhaps, anything but surprising (especially if they’ve read Wells’s novel), but that doesn’t detract from enjoyability. The unique setting is refreshing and innovative while still managing to feel true to Wells’s original jungle island isolation, and pacing works well. Characterization offers more for the hybrids in Moreno-Garcia’s take; while they may exhibit fur and claws, they show far more humanity than some of the humans in this tale. Threads of religion and the cultural and caste/racial aspects of the time period/setting add complexity to the pure escapism. For fans of sci-fi, colonial Gothic, and reimagined classics, Moreno-Garcia’s novel offers an engaging read.
PositiveBooklistThe novel is billed as a western, in the sense that Georgia was on the frontier in the early part of the nineteenth century...But this can more accurately be described as essentially a British literary take on an American-style folk tale, presented from Yip’s perspective in a near stream-of-consciousness; his narration is an eccentric hodgepodge of faux backwoods grammar and Dickensian eloquence...Adventure, characterization, and illumination of the human condition are the standouts here, pathos misting over the tale like water on the gold-flecked stones of the town’s creek...This is Crewe’s debut, and with this distinctive offering, he’s proved himself to be an author to watch.
PositiveBooklistLlanos-Figueroa’s prose is at once merciless and elegantly descriptive, conjuring atrocity as well as historical atmosphere and creating characterization that is sketched sparingly but with depth. There are elements of magical realism as well as a convincing portrayal of the informal plantation caste system...and how it affects the relationships among the enslaved. Those seeking tales of triumph through endurance will find this an engaging if at times brutal, read.
Karen Joy Fowler
PositiveBooklistInterspersed with the lives of the Booths are cherry-picked Lincoln quotations along with a didactic political history meant to relate events to current politics ... Fowler presents an omniscient, bird’s-eye view of these lives, along with a nod to what could be apocryphal. The result is an engrossing portrayal of a nineteenth-century family living through the U.S.’ most turbulent era.
RaveHistorical Novel SocietyLiterary, impressionistic ... The prose is stream-of-consciousness, and the brief chapters...are interspersed with artifacts of a sort—case notes, photographs of the denizens of the Salpêtrière, catalog cards for the photographs. Casey has pulled some information verbatim from actual artifacts...others she embellishes or creates entirely based on information from contemporary sources. The resulting episodic, indistinct sketches of these women occasionally coalesce into moments of devastating clarity that illustrate suffering, past trauma, paralysis, loneliness—and how it might feel to be poked and peered at like an interesting insect under glass, rather than treated as a human being.
PositiveBooklistUnlike the original destructive, self-absorbed characters and the pervasive issue of class, Cantor focuses instead on portraying Daisy and her fellow females in a sympathetic light, reimagining and empowering them to speak to readers with a feminist bent.
J. R. Thorp
PositiveBooklistThe text has a cadence reminiscent of blank verse, while the word structure evokes Old English in translation, which is fitting and lovely for a tale originally set in the eighth century. Thorp’s poetic prose contrasts with the steely character of a queen at once sympathetic and fearsome. This literary novel offers an intriguing new take on an old story—the play itself and the power dynamics between men and women, mothers and daughters.
Nathaniel Ian Miller
RaveBooklistMiller’s prose is lit by sparks of Sven’s somber humor and descriptive elegance as his settlement in this harsh if dramatic landscape is likened to a barnacle clinging to a rock relentlessly assaulted by a frigid blue-black sea. Miller’s characterization is exceptional and thoroughly engaging, as are the vividly portrayed island denizens, an array of Swedes, Norwegians, Brits, Finns, and Russians. Stockholm Sven was a historical person about whom almost nothing is known; Miller has given him an imagined life told in his own words in this engrossing fictional memoir.
PositiveBooklistProvocative ... Full of broken and deeply unhappy people, denial, and secrets that contribute to a tension-building past mystery. Those seeking stories of female coming-of-age and how experiences of sexuality and death can shape teenage girls into the women they later become will find much to explore in The Ophelia Girls.
RaveBooklistHoffman brings the Owens family full circle in a tale of finely wrought female relationships, magic, and love. The generations reflect a societal refrain: the younger ones are headstrong and heedless; the elders are stoic and self-sacrificing, their characters and characterization stronger. The result is a magical realist tale rich in fresh Owens clan lore, providing a hopeful and satisfying conclusion to Hoffman’s beloved Practical Magic series.
PositiveBooklistBriseis is an engaging character, both pragmatic and perceptive, providing keen insight into monsters such as Pyrrhus, as well as the women of Troy ... Briseis’ story doesn’t end with the last page; Barker seems set to pick up her absorbing narrative in a future volume as the Greeks finally set sail for home.
PositiveBooklistRosen presents an engaging novel of 1870s high-society foibles that will please book clubs and fans of glittering frock flicks.
PositiveBooklist... succeeds on all levels ... Lange’s background—her upbringing, devastation by polio, and painful marriage—and the effect on her photography are likewise engrossing ... Modern echoes abound in a city under a pall of economic turmoil and racial disharmony advanced by politicians for their own ends as well as the global influenza pandemic. Darznik has created an arresting portrait of two women set before an illuminating backdrop. Lange would be proud.
RaveBooklistScottoline conjures atmosphere and culture in lush landscapes and city scenes and delectable culinary descriptions. This nuanced take on WWII Italy offers a variety of perspectives, but at its heart, this is a love story, with heroes lost being warmly remembered and love conquering all ... a coming-of-age WWII love story that will entrance fans and newcomers alike.
PositiveBooklistThe book industry is flooding us with WWII fiction, but Ekbäck’s setting and focus are unique, on Scandinavian countries’ individual positions and as a bloc exploring their own eugenics theories while caught between an increasingly abhorrent Germany and fears of a brutal annexation by Russia ... Ekbäck fully utilizes the fictional Blackåsen as a mysterious and sinister setting. Plot twists may not be entirely unforeseen, but Ekbäck’s suspenseful prose will give fans of spy thrillers and Nordic noir a tale to sink their teeth into.
RaveBooklistIn Hoffman’s simple but luminous prose, all characters, even the villains, are not only vividly, but also compassionately, rendered. Descriptions of magic combine with herbology and folk remedy. Hoffman adeptly highlights that how one uses a talent, selflessly or selfishly, has a sweeping impact on many lives, meaning that one should always choose courage, and that love is the only answer.
PositiveBooklistFollett’s choice of language and explication accommodate an audience unfamiliar with the period, painting a large canvas with broad Dark Ages strokes. Violence, rape, slavery, romance, power plays, and human striving all combine into Follett’s absorbing and lengthy saga of life in a chaotic and unstable England on the cusp of the Middle Ages.
PositiveBooklistSchwarz’s...psychoanalytical take showcases the human toll of lives lost to stupid ambitions ineptly pursued and Bonnie’s avoidable association with a liar who cares little for her or anyone else. There is no \'glory\' in a life on the run. Schwarz illuminates the boredom and shiftlessness of such an existence ... Schwarz’s portrayal rings true and is especially pitiable ... Schwarz reveals that \'love story\' as a lie and that Bonnie knows it is.
PositiveHistorical Novel Society... a vivid tale, rife with foreboding, of life in a divided colony ... a mishmash of rumination on love and motherhood combined with a suspenseful tale of partisan discontent and personal animosity leading to an inevitable, tragic conclusion. The novel is hampered by a few irrelevant interludes randomly added for social comment (e.g., the rape of a maidservant), and forced, inconsistent attempts at Puritan-speak. These caveats aside, the novel is a gripping read propelled by vibrant characterization, and an engrossing take on the Plymouth colony and America’s first murder.
PositiveBooklistWhile Healey stretches the plot to the snapping point, her gothic novel ticks the most important box: eerie atmosphere. Although some of the main players in the \'mammal collection\' aren’t actually mammals, namely the hummingbirds, Healey excels at creating disquiet through descriptions of crushed feathers, disintegrating fur, teeth shining in the half-light, and the living creatures that prey upon the taxidermied animals: mice gnawing, insects scrabbling in sawdust innards. Billed for fans of Kate Morton, Healey’s novel will offer a satisfying scratch for those with an itch for a gothic read.
Nino Haratischvili, Trans. by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin
RaveBooklistThis novel has generated substantial industry buzz and international critical praise. Both are justified ... this is not a Russian epic, it is a Georgian epic, and this distinctively flavors the narrative ... Haratischvili has a compelling, clear-eyed perspective on her homeland. Though far from polemical, the novel should be required reading for those lacking the historical and ideological understanding of what socialism does to those forced to live under it. Stasia is perhaps the most vivid, but each of the multitude of unique characters is similarly vibrant and entirely real, their lives resonant. Don’t let the page count deter; The Eighth Life—the story of a family, a country, a century—is an imaginative, expansive, and important read.
Stefan Hertmans, Trans. by David McKay
PositiveBooklistReading award-winning Flemish author Hertmans’ literary latest is akin to engaging with a passionate conversationalist about his or her research into an engrossing topic ... Hertmans has a unique voice, and his personal connection fosters a singular depth and engagement of author with subject. The novel is a storyteller’s tapestry: Hertmans’ vivid modern travelogue traces what remains of the historical Vigdis, which he skillfully weaves into his fictional imaginings of Vigdis’ life. The horrors of anti-Semitism and the unintended consequences of the First Crusade are pitilessly portrayed, resulting in a story that is tragic and harrowing, yet beautifully told, with an ambience that is fully realized for both the eleventh century and our own.
RaveThe Historical Novel Society... this gripping, well-written novel is a wonder of characterization. It is also a disturbing glimpse into man’s search for meaning and some of the darker aspects of human nature, the ways in which human beings rationalize the things they do and the things that are done to them. Faith and science, uneducated villagers and London’s aristocratic elite, this novel plumbs the spectrum to offer an immersion in the world of the burgeoning Enlightenment. A fascinating, propulsive read from beginning to end, this is a stimulating novel of ideas and imagination.
PositiveBooklistIn expressive prose, Tillyard conjures the wetlands, the nature of the work, and colonial America, especially Nieuw Amsterdam and the plantations of Virginia. The atmosphere of the marshlands is at once otherworldly, menacing, and fascinating. Tillyard’s greatest accomplishment, however, lies in characterization, especially of Jan. The reader sees this historical world through his unique perspective, that of an engineer who finds beauty in order, yet is also moved by the creativity of nature and the ingenuity of individuals scorned by society. Tillyard’s beautifully written novel evokes both a historical world and a great feat of engineering.
PositiveBooklistChevalier’s appealing characterization of...unwed yet indomitable Louisa Pesel, world traveler and first president of the Embroiderers’ Guild of England, provides a marked contrast [to protagonist Violet] in contentment and purpose. Chevalier is strongest when describing artistic pursuits, from stitchery to ringing church bells, and that is where the novel both educates and engrosses.
MixedBooklistThe Last Hours (2018)...is a required read for understanding this novel’s character arcs. Lady Anne, possessing an admirable disposition and intellect, is an engaging character. She’s improbably forward-thinking for her time; however, likewise the educated Thurkell, who protects Develish’s inhabitants through proper hygiene, quarantine, and the destruction of plague-carrying vermin (both rats and fleas). Open espousal of socialism in a feudal society, Lady Anne’s enlightened (for its time, heretical) views on religion, and Thurkell’s class-equality goals for his fellow serfs are all decidedly modern, requiring a hearty dose of disbelief suspension. Walters’ slow-moving story culminates in a happy ending worthy of a historical romance.
RaveBooklistWWII fiction has glutted the market, but Hoffman’s unique brand of magical realism and the beautiful, tender yet devastating way she explores her subject make this a standout. Her settings, from Berlin to an isolated mountain village and a French convent, as well as every character are fully and vibrantly realized. Hoffman’s use of a folkloric aspect adds a distinctive and captivating perspective to an exceptionally voiced tale of deepest love and loss.
RaveBooklistThe atmosphere is convincing as Smith transports readers to fin de siècle New Jersey, the sick room of a tubercular widow, and Belgium in the throes of WWI. The depth and breadth of the characterization is truly impressive, the story line immersive, and the prose richly evocative as the novel ranges from tragic to nail-biting to hilarious. Smith’s tale is as luminous as celluloid projected on a silver screen hung from a dirigible floating over the Hudson (yes, this happens). Highly recommended.
PositiveBooklistBarenbaum’s debut focuses less on the science of Vanya’s quest in favor of Miri’s self-doubt about her surgical abilities and entanglements of the heart. The result is a romantic adventure with a neatly dovetailed ending that will appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah and Pam Jenoff.
Niklas Natt Och Dag
PositiveBooklistEngrossing and gross. The imagery is vividly conveyed and not for the faint of heart or stomach. Yet for those who like their mysteries dark, this is a standout. The characterization is excellent, as is the evocation of eighteenth-century Stockholm, an uncommon historical setting that provides a vibrant backdrop for this unusual mystery. Natt och Dag’s side-plots dovetail neatly, his pacing is skillful, and he explores with aplomb his novel’s main theme, Homo homini lupus est —Man is wolf to man.
PositiveBooklist\"Hall’s observers paint a picture of not just one man but of humanity ... Each narrator has a unique and convincing voice in this compelling novel centered on the man who saw himself as \'Death, the destroyer of worlds.\'
RaveBooklist\"Briseis is flawlessly drawn as Barker wisely avoids the pitfall so many authors stumble into headlong, namely, giving her an anachronistic modern feminist viewpoint. Instead, the terror of her experience of being treated as an object rather than a person speaks (shouts) for itself ... The army camp, the warrior mindset, the horrors of battle, the silence of the girls—Barker makes it all convincing and very powerful. Recommended on the highest order.\
Simone van der Vlugt, trans. by Jenny Watson
PositiveBooklistCatrin is appealing, her motivations realistic and relatable. Already a European best-seller, the novel proceeds at a brisk clip, and certain elements guarantee that those who loved Girl with a Pearl Earring (2000) will enjoy this, as will fans of well-written women’s and historical fiction.
Charles B Rosenberg
PositiveBooklistWashington [as in The Trial and Execution of Traitor George Washington an intriguing characterization, allowing Rosenberg to explore the importance of force of personality in leadership and victory. He also offers an interesting take on American-British relations ... The plotting showcases how “slow” things used to be (months for news of any battle), while at the same time giving a sense of immediacy to the American cause.
Kirsten Imani Kasai
RaveBooklist Online\"Kasai, a self-described \'biracial feminist author with Southern roots,\' focuses on identity and race, themes often subsumed by a plot that reads like a thrilling gothic horror story of vodou, sexual obsession, and insanity. The prose is replete with graphic descriptions of violence (primarily self-mutilation) and sex, offering disturbing imagery that is at once gripping and repulsive. This compelling and grim novel is a propulsive read, full of commentary on ethnic identity, mental illness, and power. Recommended for literary fiction collections, especially those focusing on diversity.\