PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksAs with her previous novels, Perkins-Valdez is concerned with the autonomy and independence of Black women, though this first foray into the 20th century feels more explicitly drawn from the headlines and, strangely, a little less intimate than her prior work. Perhaps it’s simply the limitations of a first-person point of view, which allows Civil to speak for herself but restricts our knowledge of India and Erica to Civil’s observations ... Still, Perkins-Valdez brings her trademark sensitivity to this compelling novel, and Civil moves between self-righteous anger at the perpetrators of the injustice to a wise understanding of \'how a person could get so caught up in doing good that they forgot the people they served had lives of their own.\' It’s a lesson Civil herself, caught up in her own missionary zeal, struggles with, and one that dovetails nicely with the book’s complicated conclusion about the importance of self-determination and choice.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksThroughout Sharratt’s compelling novel, Margery’s...persistence will charm readers ... Sharratt captures Margery’s mysticism beautifully, even for this skeptical reader ... Her trail is littered with snarling priests and jealous men who want to restrict her movement, claim her body, or snuff out her potentially heretical thoughts. These men can feel like masked demons in a pageant, spitting out venom for the pleasure of it. But in Margery’s first-person narrative, the superficial malevolence seems appropriate, a reflection of her victimization in a world unwilling to accommodate female agency.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksIt is the matter of her intellect that both drives the plot and frustrates the reader. Klara is perceptive and knowledgeable, but she is convinced the Sun steps into a barn at the edge of the Western horizon to spend each night, like Helios resting his chariot ... She also uses strange diction with awkward phrasing, including addressing other characters in the third person. Extreme emotions seem to pixelate or fragment her vision; she describes seeing things in boxes, though exactly what that signifies is unclear. Yet she deduces conclusions about the schemes of the humans around her from limited information ... Klara is a more inscrutable character than Ishiguro’s previous outcasts and outsiders, and trying to access her heart feels a little like grasping at sunlight. It should be scientifically possible, yet we feel the rays have slipped through our fingers ... Still, like sunlight, this story nourishes and warms. Ishiguro may worry about our future, about our ability to cohere as a society, but he remains convinced of our capacity for love. We may not be able to ease loneliness or rise above our petty competitions, but we can know we have lived by how we have loved.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksBell’s writing is both highly lyrical and dark. He can pen a beautiful sentence and embroider it with foreboding ... Much of the book feels like a nightmare, with events connected only loosely to their apparent causes and violence lurking everywhere. Readers looking for a clear plot and sympathetic characters are likely to be disappointed. Bell is aiming for something more innovative, and he sacrifices readability ... For this reviewer, the agony of watching those characters suffer for little apparent reason makes the book a tough slog. And at times, Bell seems to be showing off his literary chops rather than telling a story. But those who enjoy surrealist stories or mining a novel for its themes will find much to occupy them.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksOver the meandering course of Daniel Woodrell’s slender novel, Alma’s grandson reveals her collection of observations and suspicions and reminds us of the destructive, addictive way that tragedy eats at a society ... Alma persists in her convictions, the strength of which carries this unusual and haunting novel ... , the mystery of the Arbor Dance Hall explosion unfolds, slowly and sometimes confusingly ... It can make for puzzling reading. But I suspect Woodrell is telling us something. The truth, as this one woman knows it, is both clear and complicated ... Fans of Woodrell’s previous novel, Winter’s Bone, may come away from The Maid’s Version a bit startled. This latest work lacks the cruel narrative drive of Winter’s Bone...and delivers a much more subtle reward. The impact of The Maid’s Version comes more from contemplation and consideration than a moving final scene, but I urge readers to spend the time with this story. Woodrell’s finely tuned writing and layered narrative are more than sufficient recompense.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis fantastic story of 9th-century Scandinavia will sink its grappling hooks deep into your heart ... her writing is immediate and urgent, and she bridges the chasm of those centuries with a breath ... That intimacy in her work makes the cruelty of the time all the more striking ... the pain they live with would seem unbelievable if Hartsuyker were not such a talented writer ... This book is among the best I have read this year, and it deserves as many accolades as we can heap upon it.
Simone van der Vlugt, trans. by Jenny Watson
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksMidnight Blue is a pleasure to read, with charming characters and a well-oiled plot that skillfully jumps from one obstacle to the next ... Translator Jenny Watson skillfully renders van der Vlugt’s prose in an English that retains the slight flavor of its original Dutch, creating a first-person narrative with the delicious sense that Catrin is telling her story in her own Dutch-inflected voice ... the historical background is rendered with a light touch — almost too light for this fan of historical fiction — and Catrin’s drama is delightfully universal ... The pleasure of those compelling plot developments will whisk the reader away along with Catrin, making Midnight Blue an utterly enjoyable and transportive read.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books\"Mangan plays up the tension with an expert touch ... This is a novel that drinks at the same bar as Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and there are echoes of that same dance of desire and possession here. But Alice and Lucy’s story is certainly a cocktail of its own — perhaps a dirty martini to Highsmith’s vodka tonic ... Alice and Lucy’s complicated relationship has shades of eroticism, covetousness, and understanding, and it takes the intimacy of being together in a foreign land to reveal their truth.\
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books...[a] white-knuckled retelling of the protohistory of Norway’s Harald Fairhair ... As with the finest historical fiction, it’s a question worth asking ourselves today. Do we trust one another enough to throw our lots in together? Can these laws that we have agreed upon truly hold? The form of society is, after all, not predetermined, but rather constantly shaped by its members. The novel is the first in a trilogy, but it stands well on its own. The later books will benefit from shedding this inaugural volume’s greatest weakness — the annoying immaturity of Ragnvald and Svanhild at the beginning of the story. They whine and pine and fail to see beyond their own noses. Happily, that phase soon passes, and all three characters grow into themselves and the reader’s heart. This is a delightful novel, one that manages to summon the musty halls of a seemingly distant past and populate them with the complex heroes of our age.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThe cumulative effect of these hopeful, outraged, misled, and guilty humans is stunning. In a narrative that bounces back and forth in time, Shattuck contrasts the nearly incomprehensible horrors that Germans committed (or half-knowingly ignored) with the impulses of grace and forgiveness ... The Women in the Castle pleads the case for humanity as both dreadful and beautiful. We can follow orders to march a young mother and two children into a forest and shoot them, but we can also give up our own lives in the pursuit of justice ... this incisive story, with insights both large and small, does the elegant work of exploring how three wounded women find answers.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThrill Me turns the interior, plodding process of writing into a heart-pounding read, and imparts some excellent lessons along the way. Though Percy isn’t the first to advocate taking the best of both the literary and genre worlds, he is an eloquent spokesman.