RaveThe New York Times Book Review... [a] darkly transcendent novel filled with phantasmagoric visions, body horror and tortured beings traversing a blasted desert hellscape. Think The Last Judgment, but with more animals ... pointedly inhabits these strange, nonhuman consciousnesses ... Amid all its grimness, the novel finds some small redemption in the power of love. But VanderMeer’s brilliant formal tricks make love feel abstract and unconvincing by the end, a flimsy human ideal ... It’s precisely that ferocity that makes Dead Astronauts so terrifying and so compelling.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... [a] sprawling, grim novel about our society’s violent inability to deal with difference ... While most of the novel is spent in a few characters’ heads, Proehl acquaints us with the names, abilities and eventual fates of a panoply of secondary cast members. It makes for a bewildering read: both a valiant attempt to delineate an entire society and an unwieldy narrative where depth gets lost in the description of yet another character’s appearance or opinions or quickly sketched back story. I felt a little like one Resonant who discovers he has eyes all over his body and must shut them against a flood of sheer surface detail.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewCloud has all the trappings of a sinister tech company, and MotherCloud’s facilities, payment systems and promotional videos are outlined in excruciating, on-the-nose detail. One wishes the novel’s characters came with as much depth ... As a polemic, The Warehouse is full-throated and sweeping. As a story, though, it might leave customers less than satisfied.
PositiveThe RumpusChung knows all too well that living without a narrative of your own existence is a constant, heart-wrenching struggle. But All You Can Ever Know insists that the stories we use to understand ourselves should be allowed as much complexity as the truth dictates ... Chung never gives in to that siren call of comforting fictions—instead, what’s most admirable is her deep commitment, every step of the way, to sit with the hard truth of the matter and accept it ... That conviction is also baked into the structure of the memoir itself, as its point of view shifts between Chung, her parents, her sister Cindy, and even the attorney who handled her adoption ... All You Can Ever Know’s main lesson is that the truth is far more interesting anyway.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleHua spends time with many characters, whose dealings lend the novel the spice of family intrigue, a reminder of the inescapability of blood ties, and at least three secret illegitimate children. But her prose plunges us most completely into Scarlett’s mind, a kaleidoscopic, synesthetic experience, relatable and yet remote, as her thoughts flicker over the sights and smells of Chinatown, old memories and astringent remarks on American culture ... But the book’s more dramatic touches strain the reader’s suspension of disbelief. A River of Stars takes its name and its cues from a well-known Chinese legend ... It’s a pretty, sweeping tale, but its elements in the novel are saccharine next to the gritty facts of single, undocumented motherhood in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods ... By the end, the story’s various threads resolve in a decidedly upbeat celebration of the ingenuity of Chinese immigrants and, by extension, all who come to the States with everything to gain. But its fairy-tale tidiness is also oddly disappointing. It delivers the niggling sense that things don’t quite work out that way in real life, and that the gulf between fantasy and reality is vast indeed.
MixedBay Nature...the most interesting parts of Rising come when we catch glimpses of people who live by the sea contending with how hard retreating actually is ... The book’s standout moments come when Rush’s subjects get a chance to speak for themselves, but Rush herself proves to be a distracting narrator, especially in the moments when she showily checks her privilege ... For all of Rising’s merits, I came away feeling like it was an exceedingly elegantly worded harangue, bent on exposing our hypocrisies and shot through with a subtle but off-putting undercurrent of contempt for those who disagree with its author. Rush’s argument for retreat is a sound one, but the book brooks no other alternatives. And Rising’s overbearing lyricism ... takes not-so-subtle potshots at any attempt to engineer solutions to the problems sea level rise causes. But I can’t help thinking that for an issue as complex as climate change and one as deeply individual as deciding where to call home, we need all the ideas we can get.
MixedThe RumpusThe book is pointed but deadpan about the blithe, self-congratulatory delusions of the uber-privileged. The author is in on the joke, the prose makes clear. But it feels like we’re left waiting for a punchline—all the book does is observe, and as subtle, artful, and polished as Greathead’s writing is, the points she raises are never deeply addressed ... The novel is portrait, not polemic; its arc follows the artless path of life itself. And it’s also curiously hard to pin down—squint at the story one way and you see a woman’s life hollowed out by the very privilege that allows her to coast; look at it from another angle and you see a regular person living a multi-faceted, flawed life. (Really, who isn’t self-deluded at times?) And if we pay very, very close attention to the novel, it seems to promise, we might figure out what all of these well-formed vignettes are driving at. But I have to say that I eventually grew impatient with all of this. Because it felt, ultimately, like Laura & Emma was undermining its own existence by pressing the point: that the story of this privileged white woman was worth paying attention to. But the world doesn’t need to be convinced that the stories of privileged white women are worth paying attention to—no matter how quiet, offbeat or imperfectly human they are.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksPart of the delight in reading this novel comes from recognition that this is the absurd state of things at this moment in our culture. (Or, to put it in more social media-friendly terms: #2018.) Each little detail Miles inserts about the splashy news coverage, the idiosyncratically punctuated Facebook comments...and the consternation of medical experts is deliciously on point in what amounts to a thorough accounting of our current national madness ... Reading this book feels a bit like holding an artifact from a parallel universe one probability branch over ... He... waxes eloquent on the beauty and necessity of stories, which is, well, a bit convenient coming from a novelist character in a novel ... But this is mostly forgiven, because Miles is a writer so virtuosic that readers will feel themselves becoming better, more observant people from reading him. Part of this is a humor that seems tossed off effortlessly, cropping up as it does in practically every sentence ... Part of why Anatomy feels so expansive is that Miles takes every opportunity to delve into the characters’ backstories ... In Miles’s world, everyone — not just the people shouting the loudest on the internet — is worthy of attention.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleThe resulting novel is...an elegant meditation on modern-day emotion...interested in the ways we handle the unwieldy welter of emotions that defines human existence (\'We’re absolutely pickled in it,\' Daphne notes), how we protect ourselves from the pain of others and fail to express our own ... At times, owing in part to Boast’s effortless, ridiculously vivid prose, Daphne’s life feels so intense and archetypal (mythic, even?) that it comes off as a heady literary exercise ... But while the crammed last act neatly provides closure for almost every thread in the book, it’s all so artfully tied off that even the most hard-hearted reader will find Boast’s deep awe of \'what it is to feel\' catching.
PanThe Los Angeles Review of Books\"Hendrich is a physical manifestation of Tom’s fears of attachment and vulnerability, though he’s more comic book villain than sensitively rendered character ... The reader feels, when sunk into the novel, exactly as he does: immobilized and uncomfortably aware of it. One might sympathize more with Tom’s plight if the book weren’t so woefully explicit, and if the eventual lessons weren’t such easily conjured platitudes ... Despite its central conceit, How to Stop Time fails to convince that Tom is really a product of 400 years on Earth — all his referents and opinions are those of a middle-aged man in the present day.\
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books\"Rachel’s isn’t a simple story about a ghoulish pursuer and a victimized woman. She constantly yearns for him, waits impatiently for his arrival, kisses him with relief when he finally appears. There’s a pathology about it … Eternal Life is resolutely forward-looking — it even features a crucial plot point that involves a cryptocurrency mining rig. At the end of the book, Rachel finds herself holding a newborn in one hand and a smartphone — that symbol of our age — in the other, awash in an unusual sense of peace and possibility.\
RaveThe RumpusRed Clocks, Leni Zumas’s fierce, well-formed, hilarious, and blisteringly intelligent novel, is squarely a piece of Trump-era art, a product of the past two trying years in which the main players either brag about sexual assault or won’t even associate with women to whom they aren’t married. The book is loudly, unapologetically political ... This is all so intricate and well-done that every small connection sets off a tiny spark of delighted epiphany ... Buoying this entire novel is Zumas’s writing, which handles both the down-to-earth and the sublime with the same breathtaking accuracy ... This reader felt seen.
PanThe San Francisco ChronicleSo much of the book’s plot follows from that portentous set-up by necessity that its progress can feel dutiful, almost programmatic ... But she equates ritual, magic, fiction and faith...The result is diffuse; by trying to tackle all these ideas at once, the book’s gestures are sweeping but shallow ... The Immortalists bears marks of obsessive manicuring. The novel self-consciously tries to deliver essential truths about life without outright saying them, but it doesn’t quite let its readers do the open-ended work of piecing those truths together — betraying, perhaps, a mind that hasn’t fully embraced uncertainty itself.
PanThe RumpusResurrection is not a book about an unwilling mother whose worldview is entirely changed once she gives birth. The act of raising a child itself is not ennobling: when Joan’s children are little, she thinks about her life’s ‘soft poetry and hard tediousness, its spectacular, love-ridden times measured against meaningless hours and days and weeks and months.’ It’s a description that could fit pretty much any life, poetic in its averageness … Motherhood is a convenient metaphor, but it feels essentialist—aren’t men capable of that same nourishing self-sacrifice? (Or shouldn’t they be?) Giving unstintingly to someone demanding help sounds noble, but also a little too much like what got Joan into this mess in the first place … The Resurrection of Joan Ashby tries to get at the uplifting power of creation, but in doing so it ends up becoming what so much art created in a vacuum is: self-indulgent and out of touch. And the book ends with a moment that sums that up perfectly.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleFagone’s book details Elizebeth’s long and rollicking career — one where she lays the foundation of U.S. codebreaking and the intelligence community as we know it — and it reads like some wild cross between a fairy tale and a gripping detective thriller … Fagone is a capable guide to this kaleidoscope of historical material, as comfortable with vivid character description as he is with elegant explanations of technical cipher-untangling … The Woman Who Smashed Codes is winning for so many reasons: Readers will delight in the sheer staggering amount of historical detail Fagone packs into the book; they’ll vicariously feel Elizebeth’s cerebral thrill at finally cracking a code; they’ll cheer her remarkable work as a pioneering codebreaker who happens to be a woman.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleLois’ turnaround is satisfying to watch — who doesn’t want all their problems solved by the simple act of baking? — but it goes down a little too easy, more like artificially flavored candy than a loaf of whole wheat ... But after Lois learns a thing or two about how to really live, Sloan’s story expands into something decidedly, and delightfully, weirder ... sustenance-related tales resonate throughout the story until food itself comes across as a sort of grand, delicious imprint of humanity. What Sourdough isn’t concerned about are topical conflicts in food today — characters touch on the follies of industrialized food production, boutique organic farms and GMOs, but only briefly. Instead, whatever lessons we might draw from Sourdough are more personal, ambiguous and hard to extract: having humility, perhaps, or an open mind. And even then, the novel defies clear-cut analysis. It pushes us to do something simpler, to wonder at the weird beauty, set down in Sloan’s matter-of-fact prose, of life — or at least marvel at the strange sights and tastes of a familiar world embellished by a particularly inventive mind.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...by the end of this delightful, deeply researched exploration, Kean’s assertions will seem justified — the book brims with such fascinating tales of chemical history that it’ll change the very way you think about breathing ... Kean crams the book full of wild yarns told with humorously dramatic flair. Prostitutes get splashed with sulfuric acid! Countries go to war over bird poop! Peasants attack balloons with pitchforks and scythes! There are vignettes sandwiched between chapters; even the endnotes are a revelation. The effect is oddly intimate, the way all good storytelling is — you feel like you’re sharing moments of geeky amusement with a particularly hip chemistry teacher.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleAs Stevens finally buckles down to write, the memoir moves from travelogue to a cerebral, almost obsessive meditation that begins to fold in on itself...The effect is a dizzying recursion, reflecting the single-mindedness of a writer writing about writing ... Because most of the action is turbulent self-analysis, the book can feel airless and confined at times, locked in by the vast ocean surrounding the island and Stevens’ own mind. But as Stevens wrestles with questions of how (and whether) to turn the grist of life’s happenings into literary material, she paints an honest portrait of writerly neurosis.