RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleOne of the most enjoyable aspects of On the Move is the array of stories about the origins of Sacks’ many books. He shares his difficulties with writer’s block and depression. And he describes how some ideas evolved into books in unlikely ways ... No matter what he writes about — whether struggling to understand what his patients are going through, or describing his love of swimming or photography — Sacks always seems open to learning more. He appears keenly interested in everything and everyone he encounters. He’s a wonderful storyteller, a gift he says he inherited from his parents, both of whom were doctors. But as he proves again in his latest (and perhaps final) book, it’s his keen attentiveness as a listener and observer, and his insatiable curiosity, that makes his work so powerful.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleShe is a wonderful storyteller who knows how to create flawed yet sympathetic (and amusing) characters ... Whether writing from the perspectives of Israeli brothers (\'Minor Heroics\'), grandmothers, fathers, mothers or young women, Antopol writes convincingly and with great empathy. The stories in The UnAmericans expose complex family dynamics, yearnings and age-old secrets. Antopol\'s characters are haunted by experiences of failed love - but throughout, there is the sense that a happier life, somewhere, is just around the corner.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesBinh tells his story in elliptical, elusive flashbacks, revealing himself to be both endearingly naive and savvy enough to cover his tracks when necessary ... As Binh’s disorienting story wavers from present to past, his voice shifts from wry observer to that of a lost and desperate soul ... The Book of Salt offers a servant’s perspective on an uneasy relationship with artists ... Yet Truong’s novel is infinitely more expansive and multilayered. Binh is deeply troubled (clearly more so as the novel goes on), yet he is oddly noble, determined to find a life of dignity for himself. That the account of his life story ultimately proves unreliable makes Binh no less memorable or compelling a figure. And it makes Truong’s debut seem more impressive and ambitious than most contemporary first works of fiction, which often read like thinly fictionalized memoirs.
Laura van den Berg
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewFind Me is split in two, with the first half chronicling Joy’s experience at the Hospital and recollections of her traumatic past. This section is suspenseful and taut. In the second half, Joy embarks on her quixotic road trip from Kansas to Florida to meet the woman she believes is her mother. These later chapters are more meandering and episodic ... Despite the shortcomings in its latter half, Find Me is impressively original and tricky to categorize. Before dismissing it as yet another dystopian novel, know that the lure of a deadly epidemic proves somewhat misleading. The viral outbreak is relegated to the background, its ominous implications never fully explored ... Nor is Find Me a familiar narrative of a child in search of a long-lost parent. Whether the object of Joy’s fixation is her real mother, a ghost, a dream or just \'an idea of a person\' makes no difference in the end.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleHad the novel focused only on this imaginative food conceit, it would have been merely clever - but Bender is too good a writer for that. She uses Rose\'s secret burden as a means of exploring the painful limits of empathy, the perils of loneliness, and Rose\'s deeply dysfunctional family ... The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake takes a darker turn in its latter half, as the Edelsteins begin to unravel in their own private ways ... Few writers are as adept as Bender at mingling magical elements so seamlessly with the ordinary ... Depending on your expectations, it will be either disappointing or apt that these troubled characters slip quietly offstage rather than exiting with huge, dramatic transformations.
Andrew Sean Greer
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...philosophical, poignant, funny and wise, filled with unexpected turns ... What makes Less such an endearing character is that he isn’t a miserable wretch but a sweet and guileless one ... Although Greer is gifted and subtle in comic moments, he’s just as adept at ruminating on the deeper stuff. His protagonist grapples with aging, loneliness, creativity, grief, self-pity and more.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesFrom the start, Manon is a complex and fascinating character. Although angered by her husband's routine abuse of the slaves, she fantasizes about their freedom, not because it would be the enlightened thing to do but because it would punish her husband and bring ruin to the plantation. Perversely, Manon almost envies the slaves, convinced that she is more of a prisoner in the household than they are; entirely self-centered, she views herself as a victim … Property offers more than fascinating character studies; also described are slave rebellions that terrorize white plantation owners in the region. And when the insurgent slaves go to Manon's home, her life is irrevocably changed by the violence … Rendering Manon repugnant to the end is a brave choice, and it works. In every sense, Property is bold and uncompromising.
J. K. Rowling
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleIf, however, you like your fiction plot-driven, dark, with a surfeit of melodrama, this novel is for you ...The Casual Vacancy is no masterpiece, but it is a good escape ... This novel is an epic soap opera: It's stuffed with revenge, sex, duplicity, violence, malignant gossip, drug addiction, self-mutilation, snobbery, cruelty, poverty and death ...a married, middle-aged father of four, Barry Fairbrother, drops dead of an aneurysm in a golf club parking lot. His death sets off a frenzy of scheming and leads to some rather disturbing events as well ... Meanwhile, as many of the adults in Pagford engage in increasingly repellent behavior, the adolescents are mired in dramas of their own ... As Rowling's narrative shifts among various families and characters, she exposes the misery that exists behind their finely painted front doors ... Some readers may feel put off by a story that is so relentlessly bleak, and one that offers such vicious character portraits ... Had The Casual Vacancy not built to a shrill, melodramatic climax, it would have been a more powerful work of fiction.
RaveUSA TodayThe Round House delivers justice and redemption in unlikely ways. No healing comes without great suffering. Acts of violence beget further violence. Calm is shattered by loss. This is painful material to be sure, but in the face of sorrow, Erdrich's characters are defined by quiet determination, courage and resilience. ‘We just kept going’ are the last four words of this haunting story. That's as close to a happy ending as the author is willing to get.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle Laird Hunt has a knack for inhabiting the voices of women, with plots set in motion by historical events ... As Calla and Ottie Lee embark on their respective missions, their paths intersect in unexpected ways. Hunt keeps the lynching offstage. His gaze remains steady on his troubled narrators, caught in moments of crisis — spilling secrets, facing difficult choices. With their communities riven by ugly banter, hatred and ignorance, it’s unclear whether these women will emerge broken or resilient, and at what cost.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThis debut novel might be described as The Devil Wears Prada meets Primates of Park Avenue ... Although Ms. Poeppel once worked in private school admissions, she delivers few startling insights. The rich parents are as entitled and demanding as you might expect ... The clichés extend to a promising Latina applicant, the violin-playing and 'unusually empathetic' Claudia Gutierrez, whose mother works two jobs and whose father died of cancer. Nuance is largely absent as the novel goes for frothy fun and hits predictably heartwarming notes. Take it for what it is; you’ll be entertained.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...[an] exquisite, deceptively quiet novel ... Amid the cacophony of voices competing for dominance (and oil) in their country, Talla’s politically engaged son, Bahram — handsome, educated, a star athlete — navigates dangerous paths of activism and resistance 'with a strange mix of narcissism and patriotism.' Slowly, the narrative evolves from an intimate chronicle of Talla and Sardar’s provincial lives into a sweeping tour through early-20th-century Iran.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleBy way of these men and boys — each suffering a private yearning and anguish — Adiga interrogates his country’s cricket mania, including the sport’s rampant betting scandals and corruption. His take is both satirical and affectionate as he shows how the sport is less a means of lifting gifted kids out of poverty than reinforcing boundaries of privilege in rather ruthless ways ... He makes beautiful sentences; creates wonderfully eccentric, original characters; and moves his plot along at a brisk pace. There’s energy and wit on every page ... as Adiga explores themes of ambition, failure, homophobia and threats to freedom — whether on a personal or national level — he has produced a nearly flawless novel, and further proof that he is among our finest contemporary novelists.
Yasmine El Rashidi
MixedThe New York Times...[an] eloquent frist novel ... Apart from the charismatic, troublemaking Dido, these characters remain hazy and their fates unresolved. Still, Ms. El Rashidi’s portrait of the unrest in her country is brutally vivid throughout.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn her latest novel, Cathleen Schine takes on aging, dementia and grief, but more often than not she mines those themes for comedy...That Ms. Schine wraps up her novel in a courtroom, with Joy defending her grandson’s ticket for public urination, shows how pleasingly resistant the author is to a predictable or sentimental ending.
RaveNewsdayMoshfegh draws out the suspense of her narrative slowly and deliberately. Rebecca doesn't appear until nearly halfway through, and that's when things really get going. Until then, Moshfegh hits readers over the head repeatedly with foreshadowing: dark, bleak events lie ahead ... Yet Eileen's voice is so mesmerizing that the occasional clunkiness in plotting can be forgiven ... The climax of Eileen is bizarre, creepy and oddly satisfying. This novel does not fit neatly into a single genre. Its protagonist is unlikable but fascinating, and ultimately sympathetic. It is a masterly psychological drama that lingers, with a disquieting effect, in the reader's mind.
RaveThe New York TimesFilipino families populate Mia Alvar’s remarkable debut collection, with class and motherhood as its central themes. Each of these nine stories is superb.
RaveThe New York TimesKelly Link has a knack for snapping readers to attention with her opening lines. 'When the sex tape happened and things went south with Fawn, the demon lover did what he always did,' she writes in 'I Can See Right Through You,' one of nine stories in this wildly imaginative collection ... Ms. Link never fusses over the surreal twists in her stories, but they contain so much emotional truth that there’s no need to explain a thing.
PositiveThe New York TimesThis material is the stuff of easy satire, but Mr. Tulathimutte is keen to probe the underlying anxieties and insecurities of his characters, making them more empathetic and appealing than they might have been.
RaveThe New York TimesMs. Novey sustains suspense throughout with beautifully restrained prose. Yet her narrative is more than a mystery — it’s about language itself, both the yearning for comprehension and the desire to feel understood.
RaveThe New York TimesExquisitely illustrated, and filled with experiences of misfortune bordering on the farcical, Mr. Sattouf’s book is a disquieting yet essential read.