PositiveThe Star Tribune... as this is a book about books, Ross wrangles myriad details about their creation, including producing parchment, inks, illuminations, bindings, movable type and paper (sometimes from the wardrobes of Black Death victims!), as well as innovations in typography and layout. And for bibliophiles who are also word nerds, there\'s lots of juicy etymology.
RaveThe Star TribuneThese first stars...have never been seen, and Chapman\'s new book, First Light: Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time, does a great job explaining why they\'ve proved so elusive. But don\'t worry if you can\'t recall your high school astrophysics; Chapman is a sure-footed and entertaining guide ... As you might expect, there are plenty of mind-blown moments throughout ... Her everyday examples of complex concepts are conversational, witty and elucidating ... Even her footnotes house fun facts ... Chapman\'s most valuable asset here, aside from her obvious expertise, is her enthusiasm ... it is such a treat to have someone of Chapman\'s stature willing to carry us along as she reaches for these ancient stars.
PositiveThe Star Tribune\"While this uneasy intro has serious consequences and drives thriller-like plot points, Mannion is not concerned only with what happens to Ellen. The main story, and what makes this debut so engaging, is the affecting portrait of adolescent uncertainty confronting the novel\'s narrator ... A Crooked Tree is particularly welcome at the end of an exhausting year when so many of us have become inextricably linked to technology. It takes place in 1981, when computer screens and cable TV were in their infancy, and kids roamed outside all summer long, from dawn till long past dusk. It\'s a coming-of-age tale with the heart of a serious thriller and some YA/after-school-special lessons tossed in. Put simply, it\'s a good story told by a smooth, genuine writer. In a time when so many of us would like nothing more than a bit of escape, those qualities are incredibly appealing.\
RaveThe Star TribuneThis book is not just Amadeus for aficionados. It is, as Mozart characterized two of his midcareer piano concertos, \'a happy medium between what\'s too difficult and too easy … there are passages here and there that only connoisseurs can fully appreciate—yet the common listener will find them satisfying as well\' ... These wondrous early tales are a highlight of the book, but they are not just solo performances ... Swafford contextualizes Mozart\'s development as a composer with helpful historical primers but keeps it interesting with countless anecdotes ... The stories behind and between the music generally hold sway, but at times the musical theory can dominate the narrative ... A point Swafford hammers home is that Mozart, unlike artists of today or even his near-contemporary Beethoven, was not writing for posterity or \'trying to express [himself]\' with his music; he simply wanted to make people \'happy with his notes.\' Mozart provides numerous opportunities to reflect on how often Mozart the composer achieved his goal.
PositiveThe Star TribuneReading Metropolis, Ben Wilson\'s ambitious history of the city writ large, is akin to confronting all this urban potential energy. Chapters are tied to specific times and places, but the scale of the undertaking and the interconnectedness of the globe mocks a truly linear approach ... Overall there is more to recommend Metropolis than to fault it, however, and Wilson has done an admirable job wrangling his topic down to an easily digestible size. And like any trip to the city, there will be spots you want to revisit, and others you\'re happy to never see again. It doesn\'t mean you shouldn\'t make the journey.
PositiveamNewYorkDystopian fiction resonates when we feel the shadow of our own society’s failings creeping coldly off the page. Jesse Ball’s affecting new novel, The Divers’ Game, is uncomfortably familiar ... Ball can be obliquely philosophical, but generally this is blunt stuff presented clearly and poignantly ... should certainly make you question what kind of world we are preparing for the generations to come.
PositiveamNewYork... vividly showcases [Smith\'s] fluent imagination, exploring the realm from traditional narrative to metaphorical exposition, from fiction to nonfiction ... When she’s at her best, Smith can subsume the reader into her worlds from the outset. You almost feel as if you’re reading a novel, only to be shocked — and occasionally disappointed — when a story is over too quickly ... The previously published stories are generally lengthier and feel more developed. They are often splendidly good.
RaveamNewYork... tender and evocative ... should be required reading for any author who believes a successful multigenerational saga must be sprawling and unwieldy ... Music infuses the novel, from the Prince tune of the opening party to Aubrey’s absent jazz trumpeter father; from Melody’s very name to the vivacious rhythm of Woodson’s words. Her writing sings out, impassioned, drawing you on, varying and expanding themes, until you’re immersed in these lives.
MixedamNewYorkThe novel begins promisingly...And then [Rushdie\'s] omnivorous imagination gets the better of his storytelling skills and it comes a bit unsprung ... by turns audacious, ridiculous and perceptive. Rushdie aims to encompass not just politics and culture in the U.S., but the U.K. and India as well. His text is a thicket of song lyrics, literary references, pop culture totems and factoids. But in attempting to include so much, everything suffers. Plot threads are dispatched cursorily. Incisive analysis boils down to correlation equals causation. Social commentary turns cartoonish ... Rushdie isn’t totally to blame, however, as reality today has become so implausible that true satire is difficult to conceive without pushing the boundaries into the realm of folly.
PositiveAM New YorkThe book asks cogent philosophical and ethical questions about privacy and our right to—theoretically—public information, but drags at times under the weight of the story ... Crain...is at his best here, as he was in his first novel, when doing character work — Matthew’s feelings for Leif, Leif’s faith in his abilities, Julia’s delightfully self-involved crusade. The legal ramifications of the hack can be a bit of a slog and several characters act in ways that are difficult to understand or even justify. Crain offers compelling discussions about what to expect from the surveillance state in which we already live[.]
PositiveamNewYork... both history lesson and traditional collection ... While the focus is on the past, the present does not go unnoticed ... It is notable that Harjo — perhaps — remains hopeful about the nation\'s future, as she didn’t title this collection An American Sunset.
R. L. Maizes
PanamNewYork... has a few intriguing and promising entries, but ultimately doesn’t have much impact ... The subject matter is well worn ... The title story should feel current since it concerns a boy deciding to come out to his parents (and everyone else) at his bar mitzvah. But it comes off as almost old-fashioned, like something from an ’80s film, albeit the hope that the moment will generate a viral video ... More interesting are those stories that concern the supernatural ... Like seemingly every collection these days, most of these stories (eight out of 11 in this case) have already been published, online or in print, in various journals. This is not necessarily a problem, but it can become one when authors or publishers reach too far into the past for material. Two particularly old stories here (Couch from 2010 and L’Chaim from 2012) could have been omitted without readers missing out on anything ... Overall, this feels a bit like watching Maizes still trying to find her voice. Her first novel, which is due out next year, will hopefully more closely resemble her edgier work here.
PositiveamNewYorkAs expected from an intellectual like Coates, there are few easy dichotomies here. Cruelty abounds, but few characters are purely evil. Hiram and others have close, complicated relationships with their owners, and even freedom comes with its shackles ... Parts of the plot are muddled and characters’ actions are often difficult to reconcile, but it is an undeniably compelling idea with some moving scenes. The irony is that Coates’s own ability with nonfiction narrative is already close to a superpower, so hopefully his future efforts will be concentrated there.
PositiveamNewYork[A] strong debut ... Folarin questions the reliability of memory, and biography in general ... The novel threatens to devolve into juvenile pining for a first love, but Folarin rescues it with a touching, almost illusory coda.
Rion Amilcar Scott
RaveamNewYorkWith his new collection, The World Doesn’t Require You, Scott has delved into the viscera of Cross River, exploring its passions and darkest secrets. These 11 genre-spanning stories, plus an intricate novella, take more risks both stylistically and thematically ... Scott uses not just prose passages, but emails, diary entries, academic essays, even a slide presentation, to initiate a wide-ranging, nuanced discussion of scholastic integrity, loneliness, love, toxic masculinity, gender norms, and appropriation of other‘s stories ... fascinating and fantastical ... hopefully, Scott has more of its stories to tell.
PositiveamNew York... like a window into a writer’s mind ... Rather than discard the short shorts — many of which are forgettable — for a stronger, more compact volume, Orner leaves it all on the pages, almost mimicking the memories one accumulates over a lifetime: one story about this person, a fragment of that event, a scrap of the time such-and-such occurred ... All this consistency is great news for Orner’s fans, but perhaps represents a bit of an Achilles’ heel for the author, as there is little that feels new in this new book ... Orner is a skilled writer who can be incredibly moving ... With so much exciting contemporary fiction, do we really want to revisit Fall River?
PanamNewYork... a well-intentioned, easy thriller about a missing person, but is marred by its formulaic plotting and outmoded ideas about gender ... These men are rather dull archetypes ... The biggest problem, however, is the attitude toward women, especially Jacy, who for most of the book is little more than a \'braless\' bauble the men covet. Gendered bromides litter the text...There is the seemingly obligatory reference to the 2016 election, which amounts to little more than Lincoln musing that he could never vote for Hillary ... It’s not that aging white men who think like this don’t exist; it’s whether or not you really care to read their stories anymore.
PositiveamNew YorkA lightweight love story with some lessons learned and a glimpse of the artist as a young woman, it’s ideal for a trip to the beach or a weekend getaway ... The novel is genuine, not pretending to be anything other than the slightly nostalgic coming-of-age story about another time, both in publishing and in youth, that it is ... The dialogue can be a bit clunky and a side story...doesn’t do much, but Dukess moves her main story along. You probably know where it is headed, but the lovingly created mood, particularly in Truro and its surroundings, makes it easy to keep turning the pages.
PanamNewYork...while there are compelling and moving episodes, the narrative is so piecemeal and rushed that any cohesive story is extraordinarily elusive, particularly if you don’t read the book in one sitting. The result is a novel that manages to be both skeletal and repetitious ... chapters skip around in time, bouncing from person to person. There is no apparent stylistic or narrative benefit to this approach; it simply feels like the chapters were dropped on the ground and picked up at random ... Certainly nothing says a novel need be organized linearly, or even coherently, but when the reader must still refer back to that cast of characters at the end of the book, the author has missed the mark.
PositiveAM New York... astutely rendered ... Mechling does a remarkable job portraying the shifting realignments of the women’s loyalties, to each other and to their significant others. These are characters who will likely seem eerily familiar to certain readers. This specificity or, less charitably, this lack of diversity, is the novel’s one shortcoming. Mechling chronicles an almost exclusively white, upper middle-class slice of the city, though that relatively narrow focus helps make these portrayals ring so true[.]
Erling Kagge, Trans. by Becky L. Crook
PositiveamNew YorkThe book has a bit of everything, including beautiful stories like the all-day walk a 35-year-old blind woman in Kenya took with her 6-month-old child to visit the doctor who was in town for just one day. Kagge philosophizes a bit, refuting arguments that \'risky expeditions [are] playing with death\' ... There’s the obligatory criticism of screen time and the pace of modern life that any writing about something as age-old as ambulation will contain, but this is far from familiar recitation. And above all it’s sincere, Kagge’s love of walking leaping off the page as he argues that \'walking expands time rather than collapses it.\'
PositiveamNewYorkIt is well-researched, not sensationalized and related with a dispassionate yet tender voice ... This is a bleak story, as the lives of Nina and the two boys become increasingly entangled, though Cásares’ narrative soars near the end, with moments of humane beauty.
RaveamNewYorkWhitehead’s authority is born not only from historical fact, but from authorial craft. His deliberate, almost stolid, prose lends the horrific events he relates even more weight. The first dark turn in the novel’s narrative approaches so gently that you don’t really notice it until \'the red light of the prowl car\' hits you ... Whitehead again illuminates with incredible force the incomprehensible suffering of black Americans. Their freedoms need to follow faster.
PositiveamNewYorkWhile Karen Russell’s new volume, Orange World and Other Stories, out Tuesday, has no explicit through line, her creativity is so variegated and abundant that it becomes thematic in its own right ... The fantastical is commonplace here, but nowhere is it more affectingly deployed than in the standout The Gondoliers.
RaveamNewYork...intensely moving ... This is not the usual up-by-your-bootstraps immigrant tale told in fiction ... That a book with such hardship is so engrossing, and indeed enjoyable, is a testament to Rivero’s genuine, complex characterization and her evocative writing, liberally infused with Spanish ... It’s vital and should be required reading for any politician or voter willfully disparaging immigrants and the almost impossible choices they make for a shot at a new life.
RaveamNewYork...a fresh, nuanced voice ... Halfway through the book, the narrative perspective switches when a thus-far ancillary character knocks down the fourth wall and starts parsing the events of the novel’s first half. It’s a meta technique deployed masterfully by Czech author Milan Kundera, and Choi uses it effectively, if at times tediously, to direct her reader\'s attention toward consideration of artistic license, how some people appropriate the lives — not to mention pain — of others ... Choi writes passages of real beauty, some of which stumble forth raw and unformed, fragments and observations that double back, accreting. Other times she deploys descriptions that feel more planned out and note perfect.
PanamNew York\"... ambitious ... The already disjointed narrative gets bogged down, however, by present-day Minnesota’s digressions on everything from the 2016 presidential election to an utterly opaque episode involving Marcel Duchamp. These numerous asides, combined with appeals to the reader and haphazard narrative switches from first- to third-person, make the whole novel feel at times like one long blog post ... The narrator is also repeatedly emphatic about how many books she has read and how intellectual she is, which is odd because this novel is so clearly the work of someone who has read, written and thought at great length about, well, everything. A less erudite friend might have suggested applying a bit of that tried and true bromide: show, don’t tell.\
PositiveamNew York\"Amy Hempel writes ideal fiction for our fast-paced times ... The aspirational nature of Hempel’s writing comes from the fact that, unlike social media ephemera, her stories will burrow inside you, dogging your thoughts for days ... Hempel is a skilled stylist, whether building grand structures from spare resources or using a common rhetorical device such as anaphora, the repetition of words at the beginning of successive sentences.\
MixedAM New YorkCalls to mind one of those bizarre bioluminescent fish that live without light, deep below the ocean’s surface. It creeps along slowly, not doing much, but then blazes forth in a fleeting flash of brilliance ... Thermal inversion, ancient Greek astronomical devices, French poets (both Baudelaire and the lesser-known Lautréamont), angsty ’80s music (Depeche Mode and the Cure), the eponymous sea creatures — all are put forth with metaphorical significance, but ultimately none are developed beyond a few paragraphs. The focus turns from Luisa at the end, which is frustrating, because it is her story, even if not much happens.
RaveamNew York\"Sophie Mackintosh’s spectacular debut novel, The Water Cure, has at its core an elemental fairy-tale quality, one that derives more from the menacing forests of the Brothers Grimm than the Technicolor palettes of Disney or Pixar ... The book’s true brilliance comes from its myriad uncertainties. Some are laid bare, others — including what specifically drove them to the island — remain nebular.\
PanamNew York\"Roupenian’s debut story collection, You Know You Want This, mines the same territory as \'Cat Person\' — relationships are corrosive — but the nuanced insight of her breakout effort is largely absent, replaced by a reliance on violence to hammer home easy points ... These stories feel unpolished, almost rushed, and their dependence on brutality again and again evokes clickbait more than literature.\
RaveamNewYork...a tremendously fulfilling novel by a writer with extraordinary talent ... The story may be simple on its face, but through this framework, Rooney looks at social and economic divides, the effects of domestic violence, power dynamics in relationships, depression, desire and much more ... Rooney’s writing is a marvel, seemingly so casual and uncrafted that it appears almost elemental ... Her voice is almost gentle, but her characters are intensely emotional ... Honestly, the best way to experience Rooney’s writing is to stop reading my attempt to reveal its magic and to go read her for yourself.
Cote Smith, Zack Akers, Skip Bronkie
PanamNewYork\"There are so many parallels between the two narratives that it starts to feel more like lazy storytelling than eerie coincidence ... Podcast fans may spot some retcon when it comes to what Lia knew and when, but generally the book effectively enhances Limetown’s mystique. That doesn’t mean readers will come away with any clearer understanding of what actually caused the disappearance or what was going on in the town.\
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Raveam New York\"With his exceptional debut story collection, Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has unleashed a ferociously indignant howl against America\'s worst impulses ... it is the perversion of the familiar that shocks the most, because while these stories are exaggerated, they are frighteningly recognizable.\
MixedAM New YorkProulx’s novel covers a lot of territory, with several twists and turns, and it is tempting to wish she didn’t try to say quite so much about so many things. Mostly she keeps the balls in the air, but some storylines can feel overdone, especially the misguided machismo from nearly every male character ... That is not to say it is unrealistic, just tiring—which may be the point. The story excels in its depiction of women ... The scenes between Mia and Frankie are the best of the book and offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak moral landscape.
RaveAM New York\"The book, her first new collection in 12 years, comprises six engrossing stories that impart so much, it is hard to believe you have spent just 20 or 30 pages with the characters ... These stories are more bleak than upbeat, but... [are] related with great warmth and beauty.\
RaveamNewYork\"Given the news cycle over the last 18 months, the fact that A Terrible Country takes place in Russia might make some people hesitant to read another word about that country, lest unpleasant thoughts intrude upon their summer idylls. But it would be a shame if anyone avoided Keith Gessen’s perceptive and entertaining new novel, because what he has to say is very much worth reading ... Despite dealing with some very literary subject matter, A Terrible Country does not take itself quite so seriously, which makes for a much better story and a much better read.\
Joe Mungo Reed
PositiveAM New YorkJoe Mungo Reed\'s absorbing debut novel, We Begin Our Ascent, combines the drama of the Tour itself with the tragedy of a doping scandal ... Reed’s writing has a hypnotic cadence.
PositiveamNewYork...it’s a testament to Tamirat’s storytelling acumen and well-crafted characters that The Parking Lot Attendant works so well ... Tamirat wonderfully captures her narrator’s teenage capriciousness, particularly in her feelings for Ayale, which slew between idolatry, infatuation, anger and disgust. When answers eventually start to come, they often remain vague, which can be a bit frustrating. Part of the tension that could have existed as the story heats up is lost because we know the narrator’s immediate fate from the start: She’s on that island. Ultimately the resolution, much like this enjoyable debut, feels over all too fast.