PositiveNew York Journal of BooksWhile the mystery is challenging, the writing is gorgeous, and the characters all complex and realistic (with many of them harboring shameful secrets), the novel doesn’t quite work on one level: its structure ... The pull of the mystery makes it easy to dive into 1958 small-town Jewel, in Black Earth County, Minnesota, and be carried along by the Alabaster River, absorbed by the big story questions, losing yourself in the characters’ lives.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksThe most exciting thing a reader can experience is opening a book they’re not sure about and being blown away by delight. Horse delivers this surprise ... Each brief chapter tells a piece of the story through rich, you-are-there scenes that deftly balance the narrative techniques of showing and telling. While most of the narrative is description and internal thoughts, with minimal dialogue, it still grabs and holds attention and conveys personalities and conflicts ... The author’s writing style is pure literary, with each word, sentence, paragraph perfectly chosen and sailing steadily onward to unify the story elements. As well, she masterfully presents the ugly parts, especially in the early period ... The author has already won a Pulitzer Prize for her meaningful storytelling; this book has the potential to earn her another one.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksUp close, it’s centered around Judaism and chronic illness. From above, it’s about the universality of love. Melded together they create a story accessible to readers across categories ... Many absurd and sometimes slapstick things happen among the characters—especially the heroine and hero—that bring laughs (or groans) ... All this is carried along by light, clear prose, making Matzah Ball readable and entertaining even while it examines profound questions many people grapple with during their lives ... a holiday second-chance romantic comedy with literary underpinnings told by diverse, often ignored, voices. Something for almost everyone!
PositiveNew York Journal of Books... a unique form of cozy amateur-sleuth mystery. Its tone is reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s works ... These share a focus on the simple, important things in life, tinged with compassion—which similarly imbues the complex capers of the Thursday Murder Club. There’s something for almost all readers in both the original and now the second book in this series. Just remember that \'ironic\' and \'whimsical exaggeration\' are included in the definition of tongue-in-cheek.
RaveNew York Journal of Books\"Penny has hit on a plot that best melds together her characters, themes, places, and purposes. The story probably wouldn’t be quite so affecting if all its components hadn’t been so thoroughly developed over the course of the series ... The plot’s relationship to current events is what makes the story work. No reader can escape the relevance of both surface and subterranean issues at play. At the same time, readers can understand the different viewpoints of the characters as the narrative shifts among them ... \'Correct and right were two different things. As were facts and truth.\' Penny’s literary gift is to humanize this difficult concept. And while all of her novels feel like they are driven by passion, this one especially feels like it came out of the author in one huge, inspired wave ... Don’t be surprised if she receives an award for this one.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksThis is a thinking person’s novel. The what-if scenario answered by the book is broad and deep and complex and serious owing to the collision between its Big Concept and accidental relationship to our times ... It’s also a good book for anyone wanting to gain perspective about the global pandemic we’ve all been suffering for the past two years. COVID-19 ain’t but a hiccup compared to what happens here ... If you are easily upset, skip it. The content is heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching, and in some respects terrifying—but it also embraces hope and a positive vision, so think twice before making your choice to open the cover or not ... a thought provoking, riveting story ... What makes the story work is its viewpoint presentation: first-person present-tense voices of multiple characters in short chapters. These give an immediacy that forces readers to look at the same problem from different angles ... This structure makes the story both emotional and intellectual ... Because the story is told from primarily female viewpoints, combined with the title and the central idea, some potential readers may expect it to be a feminist screed against men. But it’s the opposite, emphasizing what males bring to the world and how they are missed when they are gone ... compelling and compassionate. Most important, perhaps, is how the core nature of maleness and femaleness—the universality of humanness—shines through and reinvents itself to adapt to change in reality. After reading this book, many people’s anxieties and polarities will calm down, and they will be willing to move forward to do their individual parts to make a better world.
MixedThe New York Journal of Books... it seems the entire novel is about juicy details, including juicy body parts ... If you could cut the tome by half, you’d find Marian’s and Hadley’s parallel stories clearly defined. Unfortunately, both women’s profiles are so heavily padded by so many other people’s stories it’s hard to keep track of the central characters ... The quantity of those extra stories creates a quality divide between reader tastes and expectations. Depending on which side of the divide you stand, you’ll find either a magnificent literary saga or an extremely disappointing aviation adventure novel ... In both women’s stories, almost every character, scene, and situation is glum, caustic, or tragic. The majority of the characters are victims of emotional abuse, physical abuse—including marital rape—or situational deprivation, and suffer from disillusionment or guilt, often both. As well, there’s more sex in these pages than the average hot romance. Whether solo, hetero, homo, or bi, the encounters are mostly sad and soulless save for a few that give little sparks of hope for love ... If you relish deep diving into myriad characters, down to their most private mental, emotional, and physical parts; and you love rich evocation of other places and periods; and you have the mental facility and patience to follow nonsequential time jumps across eras—with a little adventure thrown in for spice—then this book will satisfy your taste in spades. It’s a reading experience sure to invigorate book club discussions and maybe win awards ... If, conversely, you’re looking for a trip-around-the-world-in-an-airplane story, heightened by two women spiritually connected through time, and given depth by supporting characters, then you’re opening the wrong book ... What readers on both sides of the divide will find is excellent writing, character plausibility, and a surprise ending. The question is what kind of journey you prefer to take in 600 tightly packed pages.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksIn some literary circles, describing a novel as \'light reading\' can be taken as a slur. Not so with this one. It’s a full, multidimensional novel crafted with a light but deft hand, providing an entertaining and thoughtful read without having to work hard ... Each substory treats readers to details of time and place through brief evocations and vocabulary in use at the time[...] along with references to events of the day, such as the Spanish-American War. These give the book an authentic feel and help broaden reader knowledge about the era. As well, the characters are simply but clearly drawn and have enough quirks to remain individual and believable without needing deep description ... This slim novel is not meant to be the most challenging puzzle possible, aimed at confounding readers. Instead it’s a little of this and a little of that, neatly melded together to give us a likeable detective team, an interesting period, a pair of intellectual-poser plots, and a setting most of us will never see but may be curious about. The prose style is swift from spareness and careful craft, versus breathless page-turning style.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksThis book is like a road trip vacation. There’s an ultimate destination, but instead of zooming along the highway and getting there in a day, the story takes the scenic route in a leisurely voyage of discovery along backroads and byways. Thus, if you’re in a hurry to get from point A to point B, this is the wrong novel for you. It starts out briskly enough, with the lead character test-flying a homebuilt glider in the middle of the night. But after that crash landing, things slow down and start drifting away from the aviation story promised by the cover and jacket ...That’s probably because it’s a literary style of novel: long and lush, conveyed in masterful prose that captures time, place, and conflicting cultures. Character motivation and backstory are deeply explored. It concentrates on the layers and complexities of people and life, with all their surprises and pain, inching toward goals by way of sidetracks and backslides, with the characters learning hard but profound lessons in the process ... By the time you arrive, you’ve gone through a coming-of-age novel rich in Americana. Whether you’re enthralled or exhausted by the journey will, of course, depend on your taste in fiction.
Kate Hope Day
PanThe New York Journal of Books... lots of great parts but they never fully come together, leaving a choppy, often confusing, and unsatisfying story based on a dramatic space-adventure premise—with a shot of torrid passion—that doesn’t deliver ... The best parts of the book are the realistic descriptions of the physical conditions of space travel and operating on another planet ... Unfortunately, there’s almost no emotional component to these physical experiences. The author researched the heck out of the technical side to present it believably, then left us with characters who don’t connect on the kind of personal level that takes readers along for the ride ... The author sets up situations and leaves either readers or characters, or both, to figure out the missing pieces. This technique invites analytical assessment of what information is truly needed to tell a story ... The main character also lacks a backstory ... We just get June watching and feeling through her brain and body, while those around her are equally incomprehensible because she can’t extrapolate or empathize ... amounts to no character arc to June’s story. The plot doesn’t go anywhere, either ... What readers get is space adventure as a conveyance for an esoteric character study. The novel is ideal for book club or classroom discussions about the difference between stories and literature, the nature of life and consciousness, the qualitative distinctions between feelings and expression, the limitations of humanity, and the like ... if you just want a space adventure with characters engaged in the experience, look elsewhere.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksSurely there are World War II novels that aren’t depressing, but this isn’t one of them. At least it offers a fresh perspective, and shows how brutalized people can survive and still find love and courage, strength and hope, when all seems lost ... The story contains little dramatic action. No battles occurred in the islands, nor organized citizen resistance. But there’s lots of dramatic tension. Indeed, that’s the thrust of the book: what happens psychologically to the characters during the long grinding down of occupation, where the Germans slowly but steadily deprive the islanders of everything they need to prosper, and then to merely survive, over the five years between the Germans’ arrival and defeat ... There are times during the story that readers will be so affected by the strain they will want to put the book aside. But the need to find out what happens ultimately rules. The important, heart-breaking lessons are acted out by Hedy and her lover, Kurt, during their most intense emotional conflicts ... This is not a good book to read before going to bed. But it is a good book to read for learning about the realities of war, and gaining motivation at the individual level to do everything possible to prevent it from happening again.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksFor people who love animals, particularly if they love animal stories, and especially if they love stories with animal characters who think and speak for themselves in their own frame of reference (compared to humans in animal form), then this book is a win-win-win ... simple and gentle tale ... What makes it outstanding is the author’s mastery of story craft and prose ... a seamless narrative and fascinating, unique scenario. You open the book and are immediately absorbed. There is nothing to trip on. The sentences, the evocation of characters and place, work together from beginning to end. Although the book has a literary tone, readers from 8 to 80 can understand every word and find within its pages the nature of story that best suits them ... top-level writing and storytelling.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksWhile yes, the plot proceeds steadily, Alex’s backstory does not. Important information that would help frame her character at the outset comes late, in conspicuous chunks instead of a smooth melding. Experienced thriller readers will identify some of those chunks as foreshadowing needed to support the climax ... All the pieces make it into place before the story explodes into a gruesome and violent crisis in horrible weather. Alex comports herself magnificently—and ingeniously—in a long and dramatic outdoor chase scene. The novel is worth reading just for that! ... Is it worth it for the rest? Only your taste in suspense novels and character types will tell. There should be plenty of opportunity to decide, as this is first volume of a new series. In it we learn a lot about wolverines and other flora and fauna of the Rocky Mountains. It’s easy to understand why Alex feels called to the wild. Not so easy to understand other parts of her, but hopefully her next adventure will give us more.
RaveThe New York Journal of Books... fulfills expectations ... Longmire’s brains are impressive and might, to new readers, seem out of character for an aging sheriff in rural Wyoming. However, his smarts, capacious memory, and deep knowledge of literature and history are established early in the series and continuously developed, so that by this adventure, where he puts them all together, they are fully believable and, indeed, the pivot point on which the plot turns ... In one of the many snappy dialogues between Longmire and Henry, they relate to Vic the story of the battle from both the white man’s and the Natives’ viewpoints. This echoes recent public debate pertaining to historical revisionism and adds insight to the issue through fiction, moderated by humor ... There’s room in this volume for more humor than average in the series because of the reduced action. That doesn’t mean the story lacks excitement or danger. There are plenty of both, punctuating the high interest value of the Western art and history, and intriguing characters who are introduced for this episode. As well, readers get to know the familiar cast much better ... That last point is what earns a series devoted readership. Longmire et al. are so realistically conveyed, and such good folks, that people care about them and remain engaged in their lives, relationships, and dramas. Add a solid evocation of place and culture, plus masterful prose, and you get the reason why this series has been a reliable bestseller and generated its own TV mini-series ... As soon as fans gobble up this volume, they’ll resume waiting eagerly for the next chance to Happy Dance!
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksPenny excels at character exploration. She delves below the skin, then deeper into the heart, mind, and soul, through the layers from loftiest to basest humanity. Ultimately we know the main characters’ pains and dreams and needs so intimately that some of us feel the need to take a shower afterward ... The author’s evocation of character makes us care about them in spite of ourselves ... The plot progresses in clean, expressive, even masterful writing that draws you along eagerly. But then...the sentences get shorter. And shorter. And start repeating points. To hammer them in. Make sure you get it. Reinforce effect. Emphasize agony. Or suspense ... Then the style reverts back and the story sails on. It includes side trips into culinary and artistic magnificence, French history, Parisian ambiance. These, combined with the character delving, give the thriller plot a literary quality. The writing is rich to the point of succulence sometimes. But if you’re more interested in action than cuisine, then some sections get laborious enough to inspire skimming to the next advancement ... Nevertheless, the combined mystery—tension—stakes—people—place are drawn so well that it’s nigh impossible to put the book down ... a deep dive into human psychology and the eternal battle between good and evil. You might need scuba tanks and an armor-plated wet suit for the plunge into such dangerous, emotional depths!
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksBefore you read this book, clear your schedule. It’s the kind of story best read in one gulp ... Doiron’s signature style is how he blends environmental details into the narrative. This occurs not just in dramatic scenes but also in benign transitional moments ... Nature is both beautiful and hostile, and that paradoxical quality never quits in these stories. In this one, the lesson is more about human relationships. Mike’s past, present, and future crash together, and while galloping through the case he defines his choices and philosophizes about them. This is another signature trait of the author. He manages to inject pretty deep stuff in the flow of an action plot.
Alexander McCall Smith
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"It’s never quite clear in the story what Detective Varg’s talent is, because the narrative doesn’t poke you in the eye with it. Rather, in smooth outward ripples from the story’s core, we see that Ulf Varg’s true talent is being able to perceive and understand everyone’s side in tricky situations and to choose the most peaceful and productive—and diplomatic—solution ... poignancy...underlies so many moments in the novel ... McCall Smith’s novels share the same intellectual and emotional investigation through quirky characters who are kind, open-minded, humane, and/or humorous. This combination doesn’t sound very exciting, but it is when you like thinking. McCall Smith’s characters think their way through the kinds of quandaries that stump readers in daily life ...
Most appealing, we get to see how others solve problems like ours and emerge on the upside. These qualities keep us turning pages with eager interest and pangs of empathy, instead of heart-pounding, sweaty palmed suspense.\
MixedNew York Journal of BooksThis short story collection by Newbery Award-winner Madeleine L’Engle, published posthumously by her granddaughter, is aimed more at L’Engle scholars and devoted fans than recreational readers ... Some of the 18 selections are not stories at all, technically. They’re more like vignettes, and a few feel almost like diary entries. Together they form the raw materials that reveal a writer’s growth and transitions ... The collection likely won’t appeal to readers seeking structured stories with happy endings. Only three of the 18 close on an upbeat note. The rest are dark and often depressing, dealing repeatedly with isolation, alienation, heartbreak, hardship, and loss ... Regardless, the stories contain something for everyone in terms of genre. They range from contemporary (for the time they were written) to dystopian science fiction and paranormal involving ghosts.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksIt is sooooo nice to have a big, fat book in your hands and know with confidence that it will be a terrific read from the moment you open the cover...We can thank Sara Donati for this delightful luxury ... She evokes the world, the problems, the personalities of the time and place so well that it’s easy to forget you’re reading...And because she’s a thorough researcher, you can trust her presentation. Therefore, while lost in the fictional drama, you can’t help but learn about the politics, lifestyles, and technologies of the period, and understand how they led to our time. These are hallmarks of masterfully composed historical fiction ... In further demonstration of the author’s skill, the multiple viewpoints used to tell the story are seamlessly connected. One never loses track of who, where, when, and what; and the why behind each scene is either crystal clear or clearly another strand of the larger story progressing toward the conclusion ... the book itself is uplifting. Each character is psychologically strong despite the many bad things that happen to them or their loved ones, or the helpless ones in their care. We are left with a sense of accomplishment and hope ... If there’s a flaw to be found, it lies in occasional \'laundry list\' descriptions ... shows a writer who never stops improving technically while still burning with passion for her subject.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksWhat if God really exists, and proves it beyond argument right now in Israel? ... Alpha and Omega tells that story in an impressively plausible way. Like the book’s many characters, readers will probably be reexamining their values and beliefs by the time the story closes ... it gets deeper and more interesting as the pages turn. A caveat here: This is a thinking person’s novel. While there is adventure galore, it’s essentially about serious meaning-of-life questions and deep personal issues ... The author lightens the tone by using a casual writing style loaded with sharp similes and metaphors—all so right-on that you might start folding down page corners or underlining passages with a highlighter ... there would be no surprise if [this book] garnered an award. It deserves one, if only for daring to put on the table the soul-deep issues dividing us, and showing what it might take to unite us around the world.
MixedNew York Journal of Books... surface elements give the impression you’re going to get a historical novel about the Women Airforce Service Pilots ... a closer look at the cover and blurb reveals that The Flight Girls is actually a romance, put out by a romance publisher. From page one to the end, it proves to be little more than a contemporary YA romance thumbtacked onto a bulletin board of postcards bearing the names of historic planes and places ... The book contains multiple bloopers in period-appropriate vocabulary and facts, which throw knowledgeable readers out of the story. There are also some copyediting inconsistencies that would make a pro shudder ... Readers who keep turning pages hoping something interestingly airplaney will happen might be ready to slap [Audrey] by the halfway point. In contrast, readers who love to experience feelings, over and over again from different angles, and who have struggled with individualism in a society that demands conformity, should be able to relate to Audrey’s troubles, desires, and goals. Strong historical fiction incorporates character crisis into its time and setting. This book explores only one level, placing a character study against a blurry historical backdrop ... Whether [Salazar] succeeds at making you \'fall in love\' depends on who you are and what you expect from this novel. If you’re the right reader, you’ll have a soaring experience. If you’re the wrong reader, it will be a crash landing.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksThese twists characterize the misdirection that makes the mystery interesting and page-turning. They keep going to the surprise ending, at which point all the clues become obvious in hindsight ... The crafting of all this is superb, and consistent with the author’s handling of the series. Killing with Confetti is book 18 in Lovesey’s Peter Diamond mystery series, and it has yet to let readers down. This volume can be read on its own, or as the latest case in the series. Either way, it delivers the same satisfaction as all of its predecessors.
Jorge Zepeda Patterson, trans by Achy Obejas
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books... a winner of a novel that’s all about winning—and the cost of losing ... engages us in the psychological factors crucial for the sport and thus the story ... In several ways, as other reviewers have noted, Marc and the story set in bicycle racing resemble Dick Francis’s heroes in their tales about horse racing ... Chances are good that Francis fans will enjoy this novel to the same degree. So will adventure and mystery fans of many stripes. Cycling fans, of course, will appreciate it best because they’ll understand the nuances and know some of the hardships personally. And anyone who just likes a good story with solid characters and intense human drama will enjoy it, too ... This ability to satisfy multiple audiences while presenting something fresh makes The Black Jersey a definite winner.
MixedNew York Journal of BooksIts first and strongest impression is that the author has mastered the delicate art of making the main character speak and think like he belongs in his time and place ...It’s enjoyable reading for that alone ... Perhaps there is no story, plot-wise. Stranger from the Sea is mainly a character study. By the time the book ends, it has come to seem like a coming-of-age tale ... Overall, Stranger from the Sea is an uneven book, launching off in different directions without quite arriving at a destination ... after a lot of drama and mystery, the story sort of fizzles out into resignation. Like real life for most people. The point might be that one needs to read the original play in order to get the point of its retelling.
Ragnar Jonasson, Trans. by Victoria Cribb
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksIf you like plots to be linear and told through a single character’s viewpoint, this novel will drive you batty. If, conversely, you’re a more relaxed reader and love stories that snatch you up by surprise and carry you along in unrelenting suspense, then this brilliantly woven tale will give all you crave ... what makes the book’s suspense excruciating is its creepiness ... if you relish seeing how ordinary people of good heart and intentions can get twisted off the right path, and sink deeper into serious trouble while they wrestle with their consciences, then The Island will satisfy your desire to think, feel, and shudder to its logical and somewhat surprising resolution.
Alexander McCall Smith
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"McCall Smith has written dozens of humanistic novels about people and their places with poignancy and humor. So if you expect that type of book, you’ll be delighted by this one. If you don’t expect it, you might be disappointed ... if you like learning about what makes people tick, and you appreciate the underlying absurdity and pathos of life, then Department of Sensitive Crimes will tickle your funny bone and resonate in your heart.\
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksThe story is devoted to finding beauty and love amid misery. Although aimed at the young-adult/new-adult audience, it’s appealing also to adults of all age ... readers get to learn how crop circles are made. Surely more than one of us has wondered about that. No reason why we can’t all look it up online these days, but it’s a lot more fun to learn about it through somebody’s intense personal story.
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"The Victory Garden, set in World War I–era England, delivers drama aplenty ... Altogether, The Victory Garden is an interesting read that keeps readers turning pages without needing to do so breathlessly, and also without needing a hankie. It’s a perfect book for people who just want to read an intelligent, informative, and satisfying story.\
RaveNew York Journal of BooksOpen Carry changes POV between Cutter, victims, perpetrators, and others. Fortunately, these changes occur at chapter breaks instead of mid-chapter, so they never get confusing. They are only frustrating if you really like the lead character and want to stay in his or her head. That aside, the author handles POV shifts as well as he does all other aspects of writing. The diverse viewpoints add dimension as well as suspense, resulting in a solid crime novel involving wilderness adventure ... Marc Cameron’s new book is terrific[.]
J. D. Robb
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksOnly non-fans or super-picky-snarky ones will be disappointed. The rest of us will jump in and go for the ride, coming out satisfied. ... Established fans will gobble up Leverage in Death as eagerly as the previous volumes. New readers who like this sort of thing will soon become fans.
William Kent Krueger
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books\"...a juggling act in which Cork is always involved to some degree, providing his own moral subplot. Even if other, more official people are running the show (or one of the sideshows), he emerges as a leader and, without being superheroic, manages to close the case for the benefit of the good guys, getting rid of the bad. One can’t discuss this series without mentioning its sense of place. The physical environment is as much a character as the humans who inhabit it ... The underpinning of place ties mixed races and cultures together into a believable whole that’s characteristic of Krueger’s work, and feels real to readers visiting this world. Here’s hoping the author can keep it going for many more volumes.\
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksThis intense character-exploration story draws you along wondering, What the heck happened to Kit to make her so closed to human relationships? The novel’s structure carefully conceals the answer until the end. Little clues are trickled out, enough to give you some ideas and keep your curiosity a-humming; meanwhile, the author adroitly distracts you with other people’s sad and sometimes oddball tales ... So, quietly and eloquently, Summer Hours at the Robbers Library seduces you into caring about a cast of characters representing people you probably know, if not yourself, too. It provokes deep thoughts and exposes profound truths in a classic literary style without taking itself too seriously. Kit’s sarcastic honesty, Sunny’s undaunted curiosity, and Rusty’s blithe resilience lead them all to get what they deserve in an upbeat way.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksThe mystery is complex and compelling, and original in its fresh combination of clichés. Much of the book is disconcerting in its combinations, which add up to a balanced whole that is jangling in its parts ... The narrative slides back and forth between characters’ points of view in any given paragraph, then continues as if recounted by an omniscient observer ... Characters are well drawn, concisely, save for Celine, who is featured in depth because it’s her story. Here again, though, enjoyment gets interrupted ...Celine is the portrait of a remarkable woman: a plausible super-granny with endearing panache who helps heal broken hearts and wounded souls.