Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling authorof Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, and Cruel Beautiful World, as well as 8 other novels. Her many essays, stories, book reviews and articles have appeared in Salon, Psychology Today, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, The New York Times Modern Love, Publisher's Weekly, People, Real Simple, New York Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and numerous anthologies. She can be found on Twitter @LeavittNovelist
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleHow can we know that our memories are true ones, especially when they’re passed down through generations of a family beset by tragedy? The gorgeous new novel from Jamie Harrison...brilliantly tackles that question, along with limning the bonds of family, the pull of the natural world and, oh yes, the distinct pleasures of food ... Memory is the real star here, and Harrison writes about it so intimately that it’s hard not to feel the same sense of wonder—and disorientation—that Polly does ... Harrison’s writing is as lush as the landscapes themselves, moving from Long Island to Michigan to Montana, with breathtaking descriptions ... Harrison’s writing shimmers like light-sparkled water, and it’s full of lush sensory details. Lavish meals are lovingly described from dinner to dessert. Polly’s musings about what happened to Ariel are as haunted as she is ... Despite the missing girl, this is no thriller. Instead, Harrison’s novel, as immersive as the Yellowstone River itself, is about another kind of mystery: the ways family connects us through the generations, the stunning secrets we hide to protect others or ourselves, and the shocking truths we must grapple with ... a waking dream readers won’t want to wake up from.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleAfterlife is also full of unexpected delights. Alvarez surprises us with the way relationships work out sometimes, and with the wonderful literary references she salts throughout the book, words that have always inspired Antonia, but now, in the face of reality, have to take on new meaning ... Does literature fail us in the real world, she keeps wondering? This sunburst of a novel about family, immigration, love and moral choices says otherwise.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleThe memoir is spiritual. Moody is a minister and a life coach, and he believes that intercessory prayer can alter the perception of the observer and can create a sense of calm and community because sharing trouble lessens it. Moody is also laugh-out-loud hilarious, even as he explains sperm donation for IVF ... Digressions are part of the book’s deep appeal because they underscore the feeling that there really is a person pouring out his heart and soul to you from across a table, remembering the things that are important to him and exploring them so they become important to you as well ... Writing, Moody says, isn’t about jockeying for fame, or one-upmanship or posturing. It’s about shutting \'the f– up and doing your job.\' But Moody, in this moving, funny, hauntingly brilliant memoir about his marriage, has done more than just that, \'bending the narrative of their life’s journey in this direction of love.\' And what is more full of grace than that?
PositiveThe Boston Globe... a sometimes maddening, something frothy, and ultimately a punch-to-the-heart reminiscence ... it’s hard to avoid growing impatient with the way Gilbert parcels out hints about Angela’s father; it comes to feel as though the best part of the story is waiting in the wings, behind a heavy velvet curtain we simply cannot budge. But the wait is not without its delights. Gilbert gives us a heady Valentine to a changing New York City ... the whole tone and texture of the novel dramatically change, becoming a more moving, haunting, and absolutely profound meditation on love, loss, friendship, and all the extraordinary ways people manage to live their lives ... as deliciously refreshing as a fizzy summer drink, but truly, in its second half, it’s also more like fine wine, thoughtfully crafted to be savored for its benefits.
RaveThe Boston GlobeYes, this is going to be a wounding narrative (rabbits are being eaten, after all), but it’s also wickedly astute and hilariously funny ... Ending up in a mental institution for 19 days, Bunny struggles to survive. And this, dear readers, wraps up our description of plot and commences our discussion of why you should read this wonderful book anyway. For starters, Kirshenbaum’s a terrific tour guide through the institution, where Bunny’s not allowed pencils, nail clippers, or laptops, but can wear blue slipper socks ... If you are going to enter the heart of darkness, you might as well enjoy it with Kirshenbaum’s fierce, funny, writing ... [a] wise, brutally compassionate novel.
RaveThe Boston GlobeJulie Orringer’s magnificent second novel...is a deeply researched, almost unbearably tense, bruised-knuckle hybrid. Part real history and part love story, it’s also a deeply moral work, asking tough question about what matters most to us personally—and to the world ... Although deeply concerned with politics, at its heart, the novel is a love story ... The writing is gorgeous. Marseille comes alive, and so does the palpable terror of its denizens who are desperate to escape. Occasionally, Orringer overexplains, repeating her messages about the Flight Portfolio, having Elliott and Fry dissect their relationship perhaps one time too many. But these are quibbles in an important book that poses important questions[.]
RaveThe Boston Globe\"Be prepared because this is a big book in all senses. Clocking in at a whomping 566 pages it sprawls over a century and overflows with staggering brilliance. In this wonderfully chaotic epic, Namwali Serpell invites us into an indelible world that’s part history, part sci-fi, totally political, and often as heartbreaking as it is weirdly hilarious ... filled with as much riotous color and sound as an outdoor bazaar ... Serpell unfolds in thrilling detail how the Africans fight back, win self-government, and replace the British flag for the Zambian one ... The writing is gorgeous and fiercely attuned to magical realism ... Still, even though The Old Drift’ is a little overstuffed, a little too long, it has the feel of a fairy tale, and it pulls you into its strange magic with page after ambitious page.\
RaveThe Boston GlobeDazzling ... offers a kind of transcendent ghost story, where the past never seems to leave the present’s side. [Scharer\'s] narrative moves hypnotically back and forth through time and through three very different Lees ... he book is so much about the difference in what we believe to be true and what is true, how a photograph can be absolute truth or manipulated ... Part of the heady pleasure of Scharer’s novel is the writing, which is as seductive and beautiful as her descriptions of the shimmery satin kimonos in the opium den. Juxtaposed with that flossy Paris time is the war ... An absolutely gorgeous and feminist novel about art, love, and ownership, The Age of Light’ is truly a work of art in itself, both deeply moving and thrilling.
RaveThe Boston Globe\"Goldstein weaves in a deeply poignant story of her beloved single mom’s stage four cancer, her older sister’s December-May relationship, and her own ever-stumbling love life ... Of course she does both with incredible sensitivity and tact, but she also opens up the whole helper genre by inviting her thousands of readers (with names like Rico and Hoss) to weigh in as well ... Wryly funny and deeply moving, Can’t Help Myself is a misnomer because Goldstein most certainly, with humor and feeling, does. And she helps others too.\
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleHonest, reflective and even tender, Sedaris bravely—and movingly—lists his regrets ... Interspersed with the more serious material is a virtual party of chapters about all sorts of puckish topics. Sedaris takes on politics ... He is hilarious about animals ... Eloquent and silly, Sedaris’ collection could probably find unshakable life even in the dust kitties under the bed. It’s impossible not to want to invite him to dinner to tell you stories, not to want him to be your best friend, because like all best friends, he gets you laughing even as he gently turns you toward the darkness we all must face.
RaveSan Francisco Chronicle...phenomenal first novel ... Gabel’s captures the classical music world in all its chaotic cutthroat glory ... \'We found each other,\' [the characters] say at the end. And how lucky we readers are, to have found them, too.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleNovels written by celebrities can be risky reads, but not in the hands of David Duchovny...who has crafted a witty and profound showstopper about ancient myths, modern New York City, and the persistence — and magic — of love ... Read Miss Subways as a wonderful fantasy, an exquisite love story or a valentine to New York City, but you can also, like Emer, look deeper
RaveThe Boston Globe\"How does a life derail into disaster? Kushner, in her fiercely brilliant new novel, The Mars Room, targets one way: poverty, powerlessness, and prison ... Kushner presents a dazzling tapestry of contradictory characters, carefully connecting their stories with such astonishing aplomb, we dare not look away ... Kushner’s writing, as always, stuns with its razor’s edge beauty ... Stunning and surreal, The Mars Room takes up big ideas, holding a mirror up to American culture and revealing the tragic truth of a failed justice system, as well as a casual refusal to do enough about it. A crime in itself.\
RaveThe San Francisco Chronic\"I’ve never started a review with the words Oh, my God, but they perfectly encapsulate Christine Mangan’s unbelievably tense, incredibly smart debut novel about identity, obsession and secrets ... Mangan full-speeds up to her shocking finale, twisting the plot with reveals you never see coming. Best of all, when the book — and the body count — are finished, it’s impossible not to keep thinking about these sharply drawn characters and imagining what might happen next.\
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe writing blazes on the page, shifting dramatically back and forth from Elsie’s deliberate third person to Luljeta’s all-inclusive second person, telling her story as if it is happening to all of us. The narrative is also incredibly funny, sly, and always popping with personality ... The ending of Brass may be somewhat bleak, but there are still spirited flickers of hope. Secrets spring open possibilities, and though lives might not change dramatically, mother and daughter begin to understand each other, discovering they are more alike than they are different. History, just like the future and all of its plans, can be revised.
Mira T. Lee
RaveThe Boston Globe
Sisterly ties take on brilliant nuance in Mira T. Lee’s shattering debut about love, loss, psychosis, and what we owe ourselves and the family we love ... With expert grace and compassion, Lee moves her cast of characters through the years, ending with 10-year-old Esperanza and a soupçon of hope. '[L]ove is everything,' Lucia says, and in this blistering novel about the persistence of bonds despite tragedy, readers can’t help but feel that Lucia just might be right.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe language is as rich as the glades and rivers Turtle navigates ... It is indeed an amazing debut, but occasionally it veers off course. Martin has been set up as a father obsessively devoted to his daughter to the point of danger. But toward the ending, Tallent adds a new and unnecessary plot pivot, which changes Martin into a garden-variety pedophile and deflates the novel because it’s so unnecessary. My Absolute Darling is stunning and horrifying, but other times, it feels like it doesn’t quite trust its power over the reader, repeating over and over again that Martin owns Turtle and will kill her rather than lose her — and that Turtle hates and loves her dad. But that is a moving portrait of a damaged young girl struggling to mend her wounds, to figure out just what hope can hold, and to take her first risk that seems as much life and death as everything that has come before.
RaveThe Boston GlobeIt seems like a plot straight out of a spaghetti western, but from the start, deWitt has more than a few tricks in his saddlebag. Narrated in delicious deadpan by Eli, the kinder of the two brothers, (‘Our blood is the same, we just use it differently,’ Eli explains) the two men embark on a series of picaresque misadventures … The prime pleasure of the book is in deWitt’s charismatic characters. Charlie, an alcoholic, seems to love bloodshed as much as he does liquor, cheerfully dispatching his victims with a gun, an ax, or whatever he has available. But while Charlie’s wedded to the job, Eli’s losing his appetite for killing and violence and painstakingly begins to struggle to find the moral compass that will set them both right.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"Tom Perrotta has shown himself to be your go-to guy to take the crazy pulse of America and make a wise and witty diagnosis. His beleaguered characters fight the confines of their culture, and make disastrous errors in judgment. But they do so with such humanity and insight that you can’t help feeling for them. Perrotta’s latest novel, the sublimely funny Mrs. Fletcher, is no different ... Perrotta is astute about complex social problems, including how well a mother and grown son can understand one another, what it means to be transgender and lonely, what our sexual mores really mean, and how anyone different — whether autistic or sexually fluid — can find a comfortable place in a confusing world ... in this shimmeringly satisfying novel, Perrotta uses the sense of loneliness like a propeller, raising these characters into glorious flight if they can just let themselves trust that they have wings.\
RaveThe Boston Globe...[an] extraordinary novel ... The writing is clear, nuanced, and gorgeous and never even a word is preachy. But where Umrigar really shines is both at the opening of the book and in its brilliant final pages. It’s impossible not to ache for the young, traumatized Anton, desperate to get back to his beloved mom, even as he grapples with becoming a member of an advantaged white community ... Everybody’s Son is a tragedy in a lot of ways. It eloquently and heartbreakingly homes in on America’s problem with race, entitlement, and class, and uncovers all the compromises we get to make — but only if we are lucky enough to be born in the right neighborhood.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleRachel sets out on a search to find her dad, making us think, of course, that this is the narrative drive for the novel, that it’s going to be a deep psychological study that takes its time investigating Rachel’s crippling longing to fit in, to belong, to not be abandoned. But not so fast. Halfway through the novel, Rachel’s desperate search for her father shifts gears, and suddenly the whole tone and tension of the book goes into delicious overdrive … This is a really smart novel about who we are, and who we choose to be, and how, if ever, we can know the difference.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...[an] audaciously moving debut ... Eloquent, heart-stunning and rich in awe-inspiring prose, Spaceman of Bohemia flirts with how we leave our mark on history. But its real mission is to unravel what makes us human — and that, according to this wise, rapturous and original novel, is a connection to others.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...[a] stunning debut ... the young love between Sardar and Talla is both tender, believable, and unbreakable, as well as being the cornerstone of the novel ... The novel pulls you in like a waking dream. The writing is lush and evocative. The sweeping upheaval of politics comes at a blinding rush ... Still, occasionally, the novel reads like a history lesson and can feel pedantic ... a rich, intimate story of people.
Lindsey Lee Johnson
RaveThe San Francisco ChroniclePart of the pleasure of the book is in the way it’s written, told through shifting and sometimes contradictory perspectives. Johnson sprinkles in text messages, Facebook posts, revealing student essays and even part of a hilariously written and extremely telling, bad novel by Doug. Everything is split into seasons and years, and chapter headings such as 'The Lovers,' 'The Striver,' 'The Artist,' but don’t be mistaken — Johnson eschews stereotypes. Under those headings boil hidden meanings, exhuming the teenage truth about social media, sex, alcohol and drugs. Impossibly funny and achingly sad, Johnson’s novel makes you remember every humiliation you ever suffered while in school, and every terrifyingly bad decision you ever made.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"...[a] shatteringly original debut ... Each character’s voice is real and authentic, rendered with hypnotic precision. ... You could read Idaho just for the sheer beauty of the prose, the expert way Ruskovich makes everything strange and yet absolutely familiar. There is the sullen, oppressive heat, the lush verdant green of the forest, and the smothering cover of snow. There are \'the drippy pines, the mulchy ground.\' She startles with images so fresh, they make you see the world anew ... Idaho’s brilliance is in its ability to not to tie up the threads of narrative, and still be consummately rewarding. The novel reminds us that some things we just cannot know in life — but we can imagine them, we can feel them and, perhaps, that can be enough to heal us.\
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...so audaciously original, so inventive and let’s be honest, so sort of weird that you want to put it in the hands of just about everyone you know ... stunningly unsettling ... Maksik’s writing has the strange, dangerous gleam of madness, as Joe pivots from normality to mental illness.
RaveThe Boston Globe...gorgeously moving ... Solomon expertly works on a large, mesmerizing canvas, with an almost dizzying array of characters, each moving the terrific drama of the book ... Solomon renders each character so exquisitely complex, they could be the heroes of their own novels.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleWoodson’s prose unspools like 'jazz improv,' riffing through a story world that is both exotic and familiar ... This is truly a rare, perfectly cut diamond of a book about the families we make and unmake, and the memories that not only shape us but somehow reveal what we can become and why.
Joe McGinniss, Jr.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle...[a] raucously inventive novel ... McGinniss’ gorgeous prose captures the agony of the 'moaning winds and anguished cries coming from the bone-dry hills' ... But he’s also a master at character ... Unfortunately, he takes a bit too long to reveal the incidents that truly shaped Phoebe.
MixedThe San Francisco Chronicle...funny, moving new novel ... Josie, a wonderful Eggers creation, is really the main reason to read the novel. She’s a person full of regrets and neurotic tics ... As the group heads deeper into nature, Eggers’ writing becomes rapturous ... But because one adventure doesn’t really build on another, the narrative drive seems positioned in low gear. Also, although Josie is complex and easy to love, her kids don’t feel as fully formed as they should be ... a shaggy dog story that starts to give you its paw and then seems to think the better of it.
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"Nicole Dennis-Benn’s scorching debut is both desperately sad and impossible to forget ... Dennis-Benn’s writing is as lush as the island itself...But some readers might weary of the patois that Dennis-Benn streams throughout the book. Meant to give a truer sense of the rhythm and sounds of the place, instead, especially when pitched against the pure lyricism of the rest of her prose, it pulls you out of the story world.\
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleA heady mix of youth, love, gastronomic delights and determined self-invention ... truthfully, you shouldn’t read Sweetbitter for its plot, which is admittedly weak. Instead, it’s the showstopping invention of Danler’s prose that takes center stage. There are staccato bursts of kitchen dialogue. Effortlessly, she moves from first person to second and back again. She gets the ebb and flow of work and customers and glittering New York City nightlife exactly right, down to vomiting on the subway stairs and a cockroach encased in ice ... But even with writing this gorgeous, there’s still that missing ingredient: story. Nothing in Tess’ interactions with others really surprises us or shows growth.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"How often is a novel so deeply disturbing that you might find yourself weeping, and yet so revelatory about human kindness that you might also feel touched by grace? Hanya Yanagihara’s astonishing and unsettling second novel plunges into an epic yin-yang of life, following a tightly knit group of four male college chums who settle in New York City to make their marks ... It’s not hyperbole to call this novel a masterwork — if anything that word is simply just too little for it.\
RaveThe San Francisco ChroniclePart of the pleasure of the book (besides the almost killing tension) is that Eileen is mordantly funny ... this tale belongs to both the past and future Eileen, a truly original character who is gloriously unlikable, dirty, startling — and as ferociously human as the novel that bears her name.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleVestal’s portraits of polygamous life are vivid and shatteringly real. You don’t question, but only obey. But there are other kinds of faith, he points out. Especially belief in yourself. All of Vestal’s characters are like Knievel: on the edge of a canyon, getting ready to risk death for glory. But only Loretta might be daredevil enough to do the most amazing thing of all — leap out into the unknown to find her true self, no matter the cost. And perhaps, because this debut is so ingenious, haunting, wild and hilarious, the other daredevil is Vestal himself.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe ending fast-forwards like a kind of majestic tide, carrying all these lives we’ve come to deeply care for into middle age and beyond, as people marry, birth children, move on and, yes, die. Family bonds are restructured, and secrets (one so startling, you never see it coming) are revealed that either wedge people apart or bind them together. But Quindlen also allows her characters mystery — and some of what’s unknown stays unknown, which burnishes her story with a kind of haunting grace and truthfulness. Here, in this novel, where so much is about what vanishes, there is also a deep beating heart, of what also stays.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleSmith’s writing is incandescent from the first sentence: 'The painting is stolen the same week the Russians put a dog into space.' With a virtuoso sense of place, he pulls you into very different worlds: 17th century Holland, ravaged by plague and freezing cold; the luxe life of a modern Manhattan lawyer; the stupendously dire apartment of an artist struggling to stay afloat and become the person she knows she can be; and the modern art world of 2000, where careers can be made or lost with just a brush stroke. But more than that, Smith plunges us into the world of the art forger with precision and startling beauty.
Lynn Steger Strong
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleStrong reveals her story in two extraordinary points of view. First is Maya, mother and Brooklyn English professor, desperately trying to hold her family together — and failing miserably. Second is Ellie, Maya’s sweet, sad, tragic daughter, who becomes more troubled as the novel progresses. Strong slowly and assuredly unfolds how these two forces work against each other ... At times this profound novel is maddening. Withholding information does build tension, but Strong parses out hers so slowly that readers might feel impatient.
RavePeople MagazineAt times Klebold's book is so chilling you want to turn away, but her compassion, honesty – and realization that parents and programs must work to discover kids' hidden suffering – will keep you riveted.
Mary Louise Parker
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleFlashing backward and forward in time, and into and out of all these lives, Dear Mr. You is really about finding the beauty, the humor — and the sorrows — in our lives and the lives of others, and being glad and grateful for all of it. So here is my letter: Dear Ms. Parker, Thank you for this dazzling collection.
RaveThe Boston GlobeBrown probes Lina’s inner life with striking sensitivity, revealing her awakening consciousness ... Brown’s writing is as luminous as the skies her characters contemplate.