MixedThe Washington TimesReaders of The Den may...[have a] feeling of claustrophobia, partly because Abi Maxwell describes the woodlands so vividly, but more because her tight focus rarely swerves from the sisters ... while the analogies between the pairs of sisters are clear, the reasons why their stories should be interlaced are less so ... though Elspeth herself is vividly present, and her relationship with her son, Evan, fetchingly evoked, her story seems like an interpolation into Henrietta’s rather than a crucial or even complementary element. It is less convincing, too. The exploits and emotions of Henrietta and Jane are vivid and credible given their mother leaves them to do whatever they like while she spends her days painting in her studio ... The haunting coyote tale infuses the histories of the four sisters. Their differing characters are rendered precisely and powerfully, as are many of the settings, especially those in New Hampshire and Maine. There’s thus a lot to enjoy in this novel, as well as some things to ponder.
PositiveThe Washington TimesLouise Candlish...She is an acute observer. She’s sympathetic to her characters\' need to establish themselves as economically successful and socially serious. But, by naming the totems they set so much store by—the expensive new windows, the right school for their children, the smart vacation venues—she also suggests their tunnel vision. We see there’s something a little overwrought in the denizens of such places as Lowland Way. The issues the author raises will resonate with readers who live in nice but pricey neighborhoods that they want to keep that way, but the page-turning attention generated by Darren’s arrival fades in its final quarter of the novel because the early focus is on the two Morgan families shifts to Ant and Em and Sissy. Though the picture of their devastated lives is effective, the fading attention to Ralph and Naomi, Tess and Finn are a little bewildering. Nonetheless, this is a compelling summer read that inevitably raises issues about homeowners’ expectations.
RaveThe Washington Times... Say, Say, Say is a painful book to read. But while it certainly focuses on painful matters, it is intellectually and emotionally gripping because it exposes new facets of the experience to the light. It is also inspiring because it takes readers to a place where they can empathize with Jill ... [Savage\'s] novel is driven by her characterization of this meditative central character. Jill, too, is beautifully drawn ... The novel is full of incidents, too ... These incidents aren’t shaped into a conventional unfolding plot but form a kind of river of episodes and commentary that carries readers forward on a flow of vivid and entrancing prose. Say, Say, Say is a truly memorable novel: Unusual in its topic, perceptive in its commentary and edifying in its humanity.
PositiveThe Washington TimesBy leaving the inner lives of most characters unexplored, it throws attention onto its brightly lit episodes ... Each of these is like one of the tiny bright tesserae that make up mosaics. If you look closely, each looks separate, but from a distance they create a picture — in this case of people dealing with bizarre events beyond their control ... Likewise, in this novel author Brian Kimberling has created a vivid picture of a city creaking and shuddering as it settles into a new dispensation. It’s a picture that will ring true to anyone who visited the former Soviet bloc countries in the 1990s. Often the vignettes are funny, and the middle-aged skeptics who Elliott teaches and the crew of chancers he encounters often startle with their wit — and sometimes their cynicism ... This novel is quick to read, but its compelling pictures and insights will linger in the mind.
RaveThe Washington TimesMr. Wrangham’s argument and his discussion makes compelling reading. One reason is the wealth of research that he brings to the book, including both his own early work with chimpanzees and bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that of other researchers ... Richard Wrangham tells the history of Belyaev and other researchers with a sure sense of anecdotal pacing and vivid choice of detail. Indeed, the narrative of The Goodness Paradox is handled with great patience and attention to the needs of a non-specialist audience. This becomes especially useful in the final part of the book, which deals with proactive aggression ... Often The Goodness Paradox has the compulsive readability more typical of novels. Indeed, like detective fiction it deals with the clarification of mystery, and it’s even more exciting because it’s science—and illuminating science at that. It’s a must-read.
PositiveThe Washington TimesWay twines two stories into a double helix, twisting them seamlessly around each other so that we know they really form one tale, but for long enough cannot quite see how they will eventually merge ... [Way] handles her dual narrative deftly, meting out well-paced details that create and develop tension as readers puzzle out the ties between Beth’s story about Hannah and Clara’s investigation of Luke’s disappearance ... While the author’s controlling rein on the narrative keeps attention focused...her characterization of the important players in the story is less sharp ... Those new to the author’s work will enjoy — or perhaps shudder — at this tense psychological thriller.
MixedThe Washington TimesThe foregoing description of Red, White, Blue may suggest a gripping tale of what Anna learns about her father, and the effects of this new information. But while the novel touches on these topics, it is far from gripping ... the meandering narrative, its shifts in place and time, and the repetitive obiter dicta soon weaken its hold ... Characterization does little to remedy this hobbled narrative. While Anna is described almost obsessively, she rarely comes alive on the page ... Thematically the novel is more interesting. It explores truth, or rather, how we know what’s true ...
Readers who are interested in exploring such conundrums may find plenty to intrigue them ... Lovers of the roller-coaster spy thriller or the artfully characterized literary novel will be disappointed.
Meghan MacLean Weir
PositiveThe Washington TimesClearly there’s a lot going on [within The Book of Essie and it is a testament to author Meghan Weir’s firm hand on the tiller of her plot that it never gets confusing. Indeed, her novel is nothing if not readable ... Without a deeper exploration of the behaviors she describes, Ms. Weir has created a novel better adapted to young adults ready to engage with dilemmas and take the high road to solutions rather than to questioning readers, who may prefer to walk the low road explanation. Nonetheless the tight plot and the inspirational ethos will make this novel, Ms. Weir’s first, an attractive candidate for summer entertainment.
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
PositiveThe Washington Times\"My American Dream is not exactly the stereotyped rags-to-riches story of an American immigrant because its author, restaurateur Lidia Bastianich, was born into a fairly comfortable family in Pula, now in Croatia, but formerly part of the Italian province of Istria ... The clarity and force of this statement typifies Lidia Bastianich. Her autobiography is a chronicle of moving from project to project, always sharply focused on a goal ... More importantly, one senses something missing. These late chapters are lists of one thing after another with little back story or explanation of how they happened ... In general, though, her book is rich in interest, highlighted with appealing family snapshots, and spritzed with compelling observations. The cover picture of the smiling author with a huge platter of vivid tomatoes aptly suggests the vigor of the tale she tells.\
RaveThe Washington Times\"...chewy details charm the curious reader and testify to a writer’s expertise — always essential in novels that burrow into history ... As ever, Michael Ondaatje writes beautifully. His sentences whiz to the target like arrows. His observations intrigue, as does the structure of his novel — a tale of adventure and mysteries that switches into a quest for answers. Some answers come. But as they do, this rich novel raises other questions that are just as fascinating.\
PositiveThe Washington TimesVictorious Century does not suggest new historical interpretations of 19th-century Britain. Its interest lies rather in the author’s wide range and his emphasis on contrasts — an emphasis announced at the outset by his epigraph from Dickens: 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' Readers following the progress of Brexit will note much of interest, not least Britain’s old-established resistance to involvement in European issues, the Irish status quo that is now complicating negotiations about customs duties, and the rifts in the Conservative Party caused by differences over protectionism that are once again surfacing in the debates between a 'hard' and 'soft' Brexit.
RaveThe Washington TimesRobert Harris’ sympathetic description of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who negotiated it, not only emphasizes that the agreement bought was vital because it gave Britain time to rearm, but also that Chamberlain was not the weak or misguided leader so often portrayed, but a shrewd operator: the equal of Hitler in his stubborn determination to get his own way ... With the exception of the nuanced characterization of Chamberlain, both are largely lacking in Munich — perhaps inevitably so given that the history of the agreement and those involved in its drafting have been widely explored ... Those with a special interest in this period will appreciate the merits of Robert Harris’ novel: its careful tracing of events, and the exposition of the thinking and motives of some of the German and British participants.
RaveThe Washington TimesHis [Hynter's] enthusiasm for bringing drama to the widest possible audience is one of the underpinnings of Balancing Acts, his memoir of his years (2003 -2015) at the National ... The relevance of the plays he directed makes his discussions of them compelling reading ...also expressed more succinctly. And it’s balanced. Emphatic as he is about contemporary significance, Mr. Hytner is alert to historical changes too ... It’s not a surprise then that his thoughts on Mr. Bennett’s plays, especially his descriptions of directing and producing them, are a pleasure to read ... Some descriptions of less familiar actors or plays and the ins and outs of the workings of the National Theatre may not engage all readers, but most of this book is both fascinating and pleasurable — and certainly a must-read for devotees of NTLive and the theater in general.
PositiveThe Washington Times...an immensely satisfying volume that can be read by newcomers as an introduction to the work of an author of unusual breadth of knowledge, and equally by aficionados as the final scintillation of one of the most invigorating and appealing writers of recent decades ... One characteristic that made this possible is his books and essays are rich in case studies and narratives about his patients ... These essays explore Dr. Sacks‘ conviction that 'Science is not an ineluctable process but contingent in the extreme' ...a joy to read: a delicious supply of information and commentary organized by a gifted writer of a curious and humane intelligence.
MixedThe Washington TimesEven so, The Buried Giant, his first novel in 10 years, is likely to surprise with its fantastical events and setting...the mistiness that clouds the minds of the British characters may suggest symbolic interpretations, yet without demanding them ...it’s hard for a 21st century author to work with fantasy without being exposed to charges of delving the mines of allegory or wandering in the clouds of mysticism. The obverse of these charges seems to be what Mr. Ishiguro has achieved ... Readers may admire this novel; many indeed will feel that its oddity demands a second or third reading. With or without such revisiting, it is a novel that solicits respect rather than love, and is likely to garner admiration for its prose and its ambition rather than affection for the experience it delivers.
PositiveThe Washington TimesIn Swamplandia! Karen Russell puts the Bigtree family behind the eight ball and keeps it there for what sometimes seems like a mercilessly long time … One of Ms. Russell’s many talents is that she characterizes these two teenagers so deftly, so sympathetically that their oddities never make them seem bizarre or ever steal the spotlight from their pain and effort...Another of Ms. Russell’s talents is her ability to describe the landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes and, most significantly, swampscapes and wildlife of southern Florida … Swamplandia! is an astonishingly assured first novel with many rewards for its readers. Most important is its portrait of people struggling with the uncooperative world.