RaveThe Pittsburg Post-Gazette... what gives Don Winslow’s latest book its bite is his talent for character development ... There also is the plot, typically byzantine. It succeeds in whetting the appetite for the next book in Winslow’s first trilogy ... intricately woven ... Efficiently written and propulsive ... Peppered with Italian gangster jargon, packed with atmosphere, City on Fire improves as it progresses, deepening with probes of sexual and racial themes in the characters of Sal Antonucci and Marvin, his Black nemesis. Going into further detail would mean spoilers. That would be a disservice to Don Winslow and his readers.
Kaoru Takamura, Trans. by Allison Markin Powell and Marie Iida
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette... A swarm of characters, an unorthodox structure, and slow-moving, ultimately irresistible suspense ... wildly ambitious in scope. But unlike those books, its tone is deadpan, almost reserved. Perhaps because this is a translation, Lady Joker isn’t about color or poetry. It’s a patient, inclusive and nuanced book about a culture that values calm and teamwork, even at the expense of the individual ... Takamura has written far more than a mystery. She has dug into the roots of contemporary Japanese society, including the country’s attitudes toward lower-caste Japanese known as burakumin, as well as zainichi Koreans who have permanent residency status ... a deep dive into a society in flux, straining to accommodate individuality, even eccentricity. It’s powerful, but not perfect. Takamura takes the reader all over the country, and the geography can be distracting. In addition, many references are specific to Japan.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteBell’s telephone travails are only part of the complex picture Ms. Booth paints in her ambitious, revisionist book ... so scrupulously researched you feel like you’re walking alongside the inventor as he strides the Scottish moors or looking over his shoulder as he researches the qualities of different kinds of current in his Boston home ... At times, Booth’s style is highly poetic, even moving. At others, it’s polemic, and appropriately infuriating ... Katie Booth’s brave and absorbing book is the story of a contradictory genius whose inventiveness outstripped his compassion.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteKent State is Derf’s powerful interpretation of the day the Ohio National Guard fired 67 shots, killing four students and wounding nine others ... Kent State is handsomely produced, with a graphic hard binding and printing on heavy stock. The book’s heft underscores the psychological weight of its topic ... The book not only illuminates history but also brings a form of closure to an unforgivable, inexcusable episode ... Derf gives the book rhythm by varying the number of panels per page. He also varies the panel style for maximum impact.
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteCaste is the bones, race the skin,\' says Isabel Wilkerson, the author of Caste. In her hard-earned view, caste is largely about power, race largely about color ... In Wilkerson’s insightful and angry telling, only Germany has learned from its history, and now disowns the structure that justified the Nazi genocides ... Published as the U.S. during a volatile presidential election, Caste calls for a \'Truth and Reconciliation Commission\' that will teach history truthfully and nurture the empathy required to tear down the walls of caste itself.
Eliese Colette Goldbach
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteMs. Goldbach’s debut book is an inspiring blend of autobiography, cultural commentary, and spirituality ... Ms. Goldbach skillfully interweaves her professional and personal comings of age, guiding us through the mill and her challenging, even dangerous positions, and the ambiguities of her relationship with the patient Tony ... Her descriptions of the work are vivid, particularly her accounts of catastrophic incidents in which life is lost ... Eliese Goldbach has learned to sing, in prose of passion and power.
T. J. Stiles
PositiveThe Boston GlobeBy intertwining Vanderbilt\'s (and the country\'s) economic development with information and commentary on the social and political fabric of his day, Stiles has painted a full-bodied, nuanced picture of the man. It can be hard to follow. Readers must guard against losing track of the many characters, particularly relatives, who wandered in and out of Vanderbilt\'s life. It\'s also challenging to keep score of Vanderbilt\'s alliances and deals, particularly the ones he struck during Reconstruction, when he effectively invented the modern railroad system ... Such elegance of style and fair-minded intent illuminate Stiles\'s latest, expectedly profound exploration of American culture in the raw.
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"Don Winslow affirms his status as one of the best American writers with The Cartel, his nightmarish novel about the Mexican-American drug wars ... devilishly plotted and exhaustingly vivid ... One of Mr. Winslow’s strengths is characterization, be it of Keller, the world-weary Barrera, endangered journalists like Pablo and Ana, or the self-made Don Pedro...\
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"The Border is riveting to the end no matter how Byzantine its plotlines. This is so timely it’s ahead of the curve ... While the ground floor of the book is the internecine warfare among the Mexican cartels — the descriptions of their brutality are savage and unsettling, YouTube notwithstanding — The Border has an overlay rich with deftly wrought relationships ... As usual, Mr. Winslow writes so deftly a character can disappear for several chapters, effortlessly picking up where he or she left off. And, as usual, he tackles the conundrums that plague the body politic, the paradoxes impervious to reconciliation ... No one blends morality play with thriller like Don Winslow.\
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"Black Is the Body... brings lucidity, honesty and insight to the topics of race and interracial relationships. As her own quietly compelling account suggests, Ms. Bernard is complex and resilient. Her stories get under your skin ... The scars the stabbing left on Ms. Bernard’s insides launch this fearless philosophical work.\
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"I couldn’t put [November Road down. I’ve been a fan for years, and Mr. Berney’s books are ever richer, ever more daring. His language sucks you in, his characters deepen, and his plots keep you locked in to the very end ... Set against the framework of the JFK assassination, November Road crackles with authenticity as Mr. Berney burrows into his characters and the personalities of the cities they pass through ... The book concludes on an unexpected and satisfying note. Mr. Berney doesn’t tie up loose ends, and that’s fine. Rather, he lifts us out of those turbulent ‘60s into today, in Hollywood, in an enigmatic and wistful coda.\
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"While Mr. Lethem strains to flesh out Siegler and Heist, he moves the plot along nicely ... Mr. Lethem is always at least entertaining. I just wish I had come to care for Siegler—the narrator—and Heist sooner, instead of only admiring the author’s indisputable skill. It wasn’t until I was more than halfway through that Siegler mattered to me and I felt Heist was more than a mutton-chopped, chiseled oracle struck dumb ... In Mr. Lethem’s latest, self-knowledge comes at a brutal price but the emotional authenticity is well worth it.\
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette\"While light in tone and stylistically breezy, he marbles it with anger at America’s inability to lower the temperature surrounding the Second Amendment ... Mr. Israel, who writes with verve and curdled humor (think Carl Hiaasen), is nothing if not disrespectful, depicting a president named Piper as spineless and Speaker of the House Frank Piermont as, shall we say, transactional ... May Steve Israel’s biting, amusing satire chip away at the evil and hypocrisy that inflame and stymie the gun control conversation.\
MixedPittsburgh Post-GazetteDown the River Unto the Sea introduces a new detective, New York City habitué John King Oliver, in this enigmatically titled, problematic novel … Mr. Mosley tends to scrambles the plot lines, and…if he occasionally overwrites, he also undercharacterizes. Oliver takes the subway one evening. Next to him is a young woman named Kenya Norman, reading a Hermann Hesse book.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorI liked its wit, style, and grasp of locale, but deplored its cavalier way with plot. The book confounds, entertains, and stumbles in almost equal measure … Pynchon does not treat that lurid, Manson-defined period with gravity; rather, he spins a convoluted, insistently light-hearted procedural in which private investigator Doc Sportello comes to grips – and terms – with the Golden Fang, a fantasy, a cartel, a refuge for corrupt cops, you name it … Inherent Vice crosscuts characters and plot lines, effectively shedding all notions of linear development in favor of complexity and provocation...Pynchon mixes these all together to keep the reader interested, and it works, almost compensating for the numerous, confusing plot lines. But in striving for the cosmic, Pynchon failed to write about anything in depth.
RaveThe Boston GlobeSonchai Jitpleecheep, John Burdett's flexible, morally solid embodiment of the modern man, navigates particularly treacherous waters in the spellbinding Bangkok Haunts, his third thriller with Sonchai at its core. To conjure Burdett's unique blend of garishness and gravitas, imagine a Conrad novel transformed into a video game ... Burdett is equally good with male and female characters ...while celebrating an Asian sensuality at odds with some Western notions of morality, is an angry, purgative book ... With Sonchai's relationships as its backbone, this is a book of many currents. It's about differences between West and East, intersections of the sexes, and the relation of man and beast.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette\"Exhaustively researched and startlingly candid, Sticky Fingers proves flattery works and sycophancy pays off. Through interviews with numerous stars, mostly white men, this shows that for coverage in Rolling Stone, everybody who wanted to be somebody, even those who were somebody already—including such moral role models as Bono and Bruce Springsteen—pandered to Mr. Wenner. Fans of dish will enjoy Mr. Hagan’s stories ... Sticky Fingers is both a vivid ode to wretched excess and a tribute to durability ... Joe Hagan’s book, occasionally giddy but never fawning, puts Jann Wenner in his rarefied, wealthy and fundamentally lonely place.\
David Samuel Levinson
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...[a] flawed but largely successful novel ... Mr. Levinson’s book, part social commentary, part sitcom, is topical and timely. And even if its set-up can seem far-fetched, the intertwined worlds of family and the larger community are credible. In addition, even when the story lags — Mr. Levinson occasionally launches dead-end subplots — he is pretty funny, and acutely aware of the reality television aspect of his plot ... Consider this shtick with depth.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette\"The Force is gripping and, in Mr. Winslow’s magisterial and raw deployment of vernacular, often unquotable. If it occasionally seems clichéd — the Kingdom of Malone can feel overwrought, and several female characters seem sketchy and predictable — it always maintains interest. The plot is a typically Byzantine Winslow affair, this time focusing on who controls the precinct’s heroin trade; yet the author’s ear is flawless, his rhythm catchy ... While The Force isn’t quite as inventive or operatic as The Cartel and Power of the Dog, it’s a hell of a timely read.\
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteAmericanah is a hearty, overcooked novel about race and culture. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes like a dream, but the narrative, stretched to the point of sluggishness, doesn't measure up … While Ifemelu is a worthy heroine, her character – skillfully developed and rounded – feels out of balance … While the characters of Americanah aren't defined enough to maintain this critic's interest, Ms. Adichie's insights can snap you to attention.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMarlon James’ third novel is a technically astounding epic...a wildly ambitious and brilliant book of ambiguity and ambivalence. It’s also one of despair and cutting cultural commentary … Mr. James, a Jamaican who knows his country all too well, commands texture, his key achievement hallucinatory evocations of neighborhoods, airports, a crack house. One target of his anger is tone-deaf journalism that doesn’t get it right; this is a form of revisionist history … Mr. James messes with language like a jazz musician. He changes rhythm and cadence by speaker – reporter Pierce and former politician Sir Arthur Jennings tell their stories in linear fashion and full sentences – and plays with punctuation, even typography … Mr. James raises fiction’s ante throughout this bravura novel, raising cultural issues along the way that still disturb.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteRon Rash’s sultry The Risen is a bildungsroman, a thriller, a period piece. It’s well-constructed and absorbing, if not quite riveting ... a smoothly written, occasionally torrid small-town noir that I finished feeling it may signify more than it delivers ... The characterization seems thin, subordinate to the skill of the plot. At the same time, Mr. Rash is great at atmosphere.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteBright, Precious Days takes a while to grab hold, and the midsection sags. But by the time you end it, you care about the characters — at least some of them. Whether you should is another, more unsettling, question ... There’s rich material, but too often, Mr. McInerney defaults to style. Yet he does write fluidly and rhythmically, piquing our curiosity with his inside dope ... So Mr. McInerney affirms he’s a master of the brittle and evanescent. But the dialogue doesn’t go anywhere, suggesting the author is content to revel in his own cleverness.
Garth Risk Hallberg
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette“City on Fire has the scope of a classic Russian novel. I spent a week compulsively reading it, and since finishing, I’ve had a hard time picking up another book. Granted, it does go on (903 pages), and the finale is, one might say, Zen like. If there were a fictional equivalent of the Slow Food movement, City on Fire would be its standard bearer.”