PositiveThe Boston GlobeAll this is terrific fodder for a biographer. This one opts to steer a middle course between two earlier chroniclers, the lapdog approach of Norman Sherry and the harshly critical tone of Michael Shelden. His eye is on the nuances. The Unquiet Englishman is authoritative and thoroughly researched, while being superbly readable. It ably tracks the works from inspiration to publication, sometimes followed by transformation into movies ... The book has some flaws. While it’s true that explaining historical context is an essential element of solid biography, Richard Greene in this realm becomes excessive. This defect often crops up when he delves into the politics of Vietnam or Central America, say, to clarify what Greene was up to in his forays into those conflict-riddled regions. In self-defense, readers are likely to skim these sections, their eyes glazing over ... And when taking the measure of Greene’s relationship with Kim Philby, the biographer is far too generous ... Still, The Unquiet Englishman is a very solid work, and should long serve as the standard biography.
RaveThe Star TribuneAll God’s Children is a stunner. In this beautifully written historical epic, westward expansion, race relations and the nation’s mythical place as \'a shining city on a hill\' collide in an explosive, lyrical reckoning. Gwyn’s strategy of telling [this story] using first-person for his white protagonist and third for his Black, not only heightens the suspense but underscores their disparate worth on the American scale ... Gwyn writes fresh, vigorous sentences, and many scenes pulse with tension, tenderness or both. He’s as adept at describing battles as his characters’ mercurial changes
RaveThe Boston GlobeWalter’s empathy for these characters is palpable ... Walter is a superb storyteller. His plot rolls on at a steady pace. His ear for dialogue, whatever the character, is acute. He knows when to amp up the prose with a telling metaphor ... All of Walter’s virtues have been on display in his previous novels. In the meantime, his gift for satire, previously put to good use in Zero and in Beautiful Ruins, partially a spoof of Hollywood inanities, has been set aside.
RaveNewsweekThis is a dark, frightening and triumphantly original work, a 1984 for our time. It’s the author’s brilliant decision to pit the delights of the All-American pastime, baseball, as antidote to the rigors of the surveillance state. Pleasure versus pain, leisure versus labor, freedom versus regimentation ... perfectly nimble and precise, with just a dollop of humor ... Jen’s terse sentences and short scenes create an irresistible forward momentum. Her dialogue veers from witty (the family) to eerie (the robotic watchers and a few robotic humans) to shamefully naive (Net U. students) By contrast, she makes the Cannon-Chastenets into believable, fully rounded characters. And genuine heroes ... Don’t dare call this fantasy or science fiction. This is a world all too terrifying, dangerous and real.
RaveNewsdayOn the Move, his most intimate book, is passionate about many things -- motorcycling and weightlifting, science and medicine, family and friends. It is also remarkably candid about his homosexuality and a onetime four-year addiction to amphetamines ... Learning to come to terms with unique patients has given Oliver Sacks permission to come to terms with himself. And what a self this book reveals! A man animated by boundless curiosity, wide-ranging intelligence, gratitude for flawed humanity, perseverance despite setbacks ... It\'s intensely, beautifully, incandescently alive.
PositiveNewsday... filled with fascinating human-interest stories, told in a casual, conversational, you-are-there voice ... Other stories make for more incisive readings of the late ‘80s zeitgeist. And in each case, there’s nothing random about Weingarten’s choices. He’s been the judge of what’s relevant and important ... Weingarten offers a final coda, a little sermon about every day offering \'a soul-searing blast of the inexpressible wonder of being.\' No doubt some of his subjects would heartily agree. Others, not so much.
John Le Carre
PositiveNewsdayAs usual, Agent Running in the Field is a model of supple, muscular prose. Le Carré’s sharply etched characters spring to life ... The book’s pacing is swift, the dialogue rings true, the plot twists are bracing and unexpected. The le Carré magic is apparent everywhere — until the very end ... The conclusion is not only a huge surprise but positively unfathomable, and not quite earned.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteLucy reigns as comedian-in-chief of Fiona Maazel\'s marvelous new first novel ... The threat of plague looms over every page of this book. Maazel never has to utter the word \'terrorism\' for us to catch the terrifying implications. Nor are we left unaware of the plagues of drugs or of lives bereft of love ... Despite a gaggle of guffaws, be assured that Maazel never romanticizes addiction ... Last Last Chance fuses the outrageous apocalyptic vision of Chuck Palahniuk\'s fiction and the cerebral dark comedy of Marisha Pessl\'s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
PositiveNewsdayThe author does cast a satiric and sometimes amusing eye on both the frantic race for status among Rachel and her women friends and the feverish pursuit of sex among newly unencumbered men like Toby ... Brodesser-Akner has been utterly successful at creating a monster [in Rachel]. And she’s created a male protagonist who goes the extra mile to do the right thing. He may be a fool with regard to sex, but he’s no knave. That said, female readers may disagree. This is a book shot through with the pain of divorce, the droll weirdness of our sexual drives, the inanities of people with too much money, and the bewilderment of the young looking on as adults carry on like children. If the author had condensed her prose a bit instead of engaging in endless riffs that merely repeat a thought, Fleishman Is in Trouble would be even better.
MixedThe Boston GlobeCasey Cep’s oddly titled Furious Hours amounts to two different books. In one, she reports — as best she can, given limited sources — the story of that dispiriting struggle. But she also tells, with great verve, the fascinating true-crime story that Lee failed to complete ... The author ably sifts through the evidence for Maxwell’s crimes and explains the sometimes arcane mores of the Deep South. Ever eager to provide context, however, she tends to plunge into narrative black holes.
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle\"[Scibona’s] new work, The Volunteer, demands the patience to follow an enigmatic plot that gives little hint as to where it’s headed. But for those who stay the course, the rewards are enormous. This is a spectacular work of fiction ... the prose moves with a lighter step [than Scibona’s previous work] but is just as pungent ... Scibona’s story is as big as his ambition ... Scibona’s writing, always strong, is especially evocative while summoning working-class street life in Queens or the GI’s fears in Vietnam ... To be sure, some of Scibona’s scenes stretch out too long. But The Volunteer lingers in the memory, a thrilling work bursting with a love of the English language and compassion for poor, broken humanity.\
PanSan Francisco Chronicle\"However well-intentioned, this book is a disappointment. The prose is bloated, undisciplined and repetitive. Treuer seems incapable of being succinct. His talking points drown in a sea of verbiage. He quotes speeches, legal briefs and treaties at extraordinary length, when summaries would better serve his purpose. One wonders why his editors at the usually excellent house of Riverhead failed to rein him in.\
PanNewsday\"Apparently, Lanchester has succumbed to passivity too. He assigns to Kavanaugh such a low-key narrative voice that the man seems little more interesting than the barren expanse he daily surveys — concrete wall, sky and sea. The author evokes boredom so well that the reader has to slap himself to avoid nodding off ... The woman who becomes Kavanaugh’s lover is a faceless cipher, a character without defining characteristics. So, too, is the nation in which the story takes place ... If only the author were more committed to creating vibrant characters than scolding his readers. And we know he can do that.\
PositiveNewsday\"Tom Barbash’s new novel, The Dakota Winters, neither glamorizes nor sneers at what goes on inside [the apartment building]. Fame and its discontents are his major themes, as is the tangled father-son bond ... Barbash excels at bringing alive the New York of this era, as his characters turn up at the Oak Bar at the Plaza, the Central Park Zoo or the Explorer’s Club. His dialogue is superb, incandescent with witty repartee ... By contrast, Barbash’s depiction of Joan Kennedy, one of Emily’s buddies, as she campaigns with Ted for the Democratic nomination, comes off as wooden. And some scenes seem longer than necessary to make their point. But on the whole, The Dakota Winters is a very satisfying novel, entertaining and illuminating in equal measure.\
MixedNewsday\"Lipsyte’s witty dialogue provokes plenty of chuckles, though the Pensig twins do sound more like teenage wiseacres than grammar schoolers ... For all the larky humor, though, one wishes that the plot moved with more dispatch. One senses that Lipsyte wasn’t certain where to take his story ... Lipsyte’s subplots try to sustain our interest... But these are sideshows to the main drama of Hark’s rise to eminence ... We don’t need to like fictional characters to find them fascinating. Nor do characters in comic novels need to attain the rounded features of those in other novels. But I did hope to care as much about Lipsyte’s people as I admired his deft satire.\
PositiveThe Boston Globe\"... The Patch, is a miscellany of pieces that have not previously appeared in books ... No matter the subject, these pieces embody a surface ease and grace accomplished only through relentless polishing ... The \'quilt\' [of vignettes composing the book] is made up of brief excerpted pieces from The New Yorker and Time, his first employer, and display McPhee’s boundless curiosity and ability to unwind complicated subjects. They also expose one of the book’s weaknesses — that many of those he profiles are dead. Cary Grant, Oscar Hammerstein, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Peter Sellers are included. The likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nicole Kidman are not ... What nonetheless keeps us reading is McPhee’s gift for the delicious turn of phrase ... You will also appreciate the McPhee wit ... The publisher calls this book \'a covert memoir,\' on the book flap, but it’s merely a tease. Is there any hope for the real thing?\
PositiveNewsday...a loving homage to libraries everywhere ... She’s a droll storyteller eager to show the human face of the library ... At times, Orlean’s ever-shifting focus gives the book the feel of a random hodgepodge. And sometimes it’s downright silly ... The writing, however is unfailingly fine.
RaveNewsday\"Christensen maneuvers adroitly among these various conundrums while highlighting her characters’ strengths and flaws. While the plot never flags, the author uses Valerie, a journalist with a nose for a juicy story, to ramp up the excitement ... The Last Cruise shades into thriller territory, but of a sophisticated, multi-layered sort. Christensen is shrewd about human behavior, and her knowledge of cruise ships, cooking and music adds convincing detail to every scene.\
RaveNewsday\"Despite the gaps between them, Westover is able to see the mix of good and evil, of pride and hurt, in all these people, including herself. Rather than demonize, she wishes to understand. A brilliant mind so long constricted proves elastic and inventive. Whether narrating scenes of fury and violence or evoking rural landscapes or tortured self-analysis, Westover writes with uncommon intelligence and grace. Educated recounts one of the most improbable and fascinating journeys I’ve read in recent years.\
Charles C. Mann
RaveThe Boston GlobeMann takes on the most challenging question of our time: how to juggle dealing with climate change while feeding the world and promoting prosperity. His focus starts narrowly, on two mid-20th century scientists with opposing points of view, before widening into their conflicting legacies for care of the planet … Mann’s vivid accounts of these two men are, far and away, the most interesting sections of this book. Yet his virtues as a writer extend to his coverage of the four elements that will make or break our fate: food, fresh water, energy, and climate change. He is remarkably even-handed in discussing the merits of rival viewpoints, and his gift for explaining science shines on every page … It’s a stimulating, thoughtful, balanced overview of matters vital to us all.
PanThe San Francisco Chronicle...a crime novel that yearns to be a screenplay … The book never measures up to its potential. Most annoying is Rich’s penchant for making scenes far longer than they need to be. Because conversations drag on in a way they wouldn’t in real life, the impact of a meeting between characters is blurred … Finally, and unfortunately, Rich sabotages his tale with a melodramatic, violent climax that would make a B-movie director blush.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleMore than any other Erdrich novel, this is a fast-paced adventure tale. Observations about faith and family crop up only in the pauses between one peril after another. For that reason, the prose, with few exceptions, is far more streamlined than the customary Erdrich lyricism. These sentences are crafted to keep the action marching forward. The plot, with its episodes of stealth, flight and capture, borders on the improbable. But who’s to say what forms of subjugation and heroism American authoritarianism may someday produce? As tough and resilient as Cedar Hawk proves to be, she faces two unrelenting foes, a regime with no regard for individuality, let alone women, and a climate just as merciless. Erdrich finally gives her poetic voice free rein when her heroine recalls the beauty of Minnesota winters past.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleIt’s implicit in Ron Chernow’s magisterial biography, Grant, that he’d like to change that ... Like Chernow’s earlier door-stoppers, Washington and Hamilton among them, Grant is a biography that demands the unconditional surrender of its readers ... Grant was far more complicated, and thus more interesting, than we were ever taught ... More than earlier Grant biographers H.W. Brands and Ronald C. White, Chernow emphasizes Grant’s path-breaking but under-recognized role as a champion of blacks. He’s also relentless in pursuit of the alcoholism theme ... Chernow is not the first to praise it as 'probably the foremost military memoir in the English language.'
RaveNewsday...by turns cerebral, lively and poignant. Along with fascinating commentary on The Odyssey, Mendelsohn offers a host of revealing family details and classroom encounters ... we are made to see parallels between Homer’s epic and the Mendelsohn family story. The Odyssey’s initial focus is on Telemachus, now 20, searching for the father he has never known. Likewise, Daniel discovers that the classroom becomes a way to better understand his cantankerous father. In lesser hands, this sort of parallelism would seem gimmicky, but not here ... Every step of the way, An Odyssey charts a remarkable journey made indelible by Mendelsohn’s elegant prose.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIn Krauss’ triumphant new novel, she reprises the themes of loss and quest, and continues the structure of dual protagonists whose trajectories may eventually align ... brief summary may make these plotlines seem confusing and wildly improbable, but Krauss makes it all work with her usual deft hand. There is no obvious intersection between Jules and Nicole, but we are offered hints ... in Forest Dark, Nicole Krauss has once again mastered a light touch in pursuit of weighty themes.
PanThe San Francisco ChronicleIf an author's duty is to make the improbable seem probable, even while endowing his story with symbolic meanings, Ford has clearly failed the test. We believe neither events nor relationships. Instead, we seem knee-deep in some bizarre Richard Ford self-parody, some fictional never-never land where nothing makes sense … If the book's first half is preposterous, the second manages to be more credible, while pervaded by mystery…Canada leaves us groping for answers.
PositiveNewsdayThis is a big, old-fashioned novel filled with a large cast of floundering locals. Dee shifts the point of view to each in turn, providing a wide-angle view on Howland anxieties ... The Locals is a steady, intelligent probing of family ties and sibling rivalry and themes that illuminate how we live now — inequality and status envy, individualism and community, the high life and the good life. Dee falters only in a too-long introductory set-piece (33 pages) and an abrupt, inconclusive ending.
RaveNewsdayBeing Dead is anything but a sentimental work. It is, on the contrary, a gruesome, gut- wrenching novel, not for the squeamish … It also is a virtuoso piece of writing, with page after page filled with harsh, earthy evocation of the mini-sagas of living and dying. Dull and drab in life, Joseph and Celice take on a garish notoriety in death … The universe as created by Crace is ruled by chance, not God. Cruelty is casual, bereft of motive, and humankind hardly counts in the scheme of things … Oddly enough, the effect is both starkly appalling and subtly ennobling.
RaveThe Washington PostLike his hometown, the protagonist of Richard Russo's latest novel, Empire Falls, seems battered and gun-shy, maybe even doomed for the scrap heap. Empire Falls – a generation ago the thriving base of a timber and textile company – is now blemished by abandoned factories and boarded-up stores. Once-mighty Whiting Enterprises has been reduced to an elderly widowed termagant, Mrs. Whiting, with a grown daughter, Cindy, warehoused in a distant mental hospital. The townspeople, deprived of good jobs, bereft of hope, make do on bitterness and regret … Richard Russo layers these tangled relationships into a richly satisfying portrait of a man within a defining community. Not a stylist, the author seems determined to subordinate style to honest and compassionate storytelling. That Empire Falls resonates so deeply is a measure of its unexpected truths.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleEugenides' fluid prose is capable of summoning up worlds as disparate as Calcutta streets, biology labs, dysfunctional families, hospital mental wards or undergraduate parties. He paints striking contrasting portraits of a fiercely rigorous religion scholar and an English professor whose slack-jawed infatuation with semiotics is likened to a midlife adulterous fling … The Marriage Plot dramatizes the baffling, often contradictory feelings endemic to the leap into adulthood's great unknown … For all its strengths, however, this leisurely told novel doesn't entirely satisfy. Eugenides' description of Leonard - ‘large and shaggy, like a Sendak creature’ - could well apply to the book itself.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneMark Haddon's superb first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is a first-person account of an autistic savant … His burden is unceasing vigilance against a threatening world...People communicate with gestures and metaphorical language he can't fathom. They even lie. Dogs are easier to understand; they are unfailingly honest … Yet the unintentional ironies and out-of-the-mouths-of-babes bits of wisdom fairly leap off the page. For example, Christopher denies to a teacher that learning about his mother's affair makes him sad. Since she's no longer alive, he explains, ‘I would be feeling sad about something that isn't real.’ Haddon makes sure that the question of what's real becomes ever more baffling … Haddon's gentle humor reminds us that facts don't add up to a life, that we understand ourselves only through metaphor.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleFor such a disciplined, measured writer, Doerr's storytelling mode here is unexpectedly vigorous. Darting back and forth between the two protagonists in the six years leading up to 1944, the book moves with the pace of a thriller. Each two- to four-page chapter offers a sharply etched glimpse into character and circumstance. As a result, the radiant beauty of the prose - and it is gorgeous - never makes us pause too long. The story's headlong action propels us ever onward … Doerr's novel spotlights history in vivid primary colors. He makes us not only see but also feel the desolation and barbarism of war … On this stage, at once vast and intimate, Doerr works his magic on the great themes of destiny versus choice, entrapment versus liberation, atrocity versus honor.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeA bulldog of an investigator, Guinn has tracked down disenchanted ex-cult members and the few survivors of Jonestown, including several of Jones’s sons who happened to be away on the community’s last day. The result is a thoroughly readable, thoroughly chilling account of a brilliant con man and his all-too vulnerable prey. If weak on explanations of what made the man and his victims tick, it generates a bizarre — dare I say Manson-like? — magnetic force that pulls the reader through its many pages. Noir thriller morphs into horror story.
RaveNewsdayTinti makes each of her crime scenes wildly different yet equally suspenseful. As skillful as she is, she never romanticizes her bad actors. What most deeply interests her is the stumbling, fumbling humanity that results in bad actions ... Like Russell Banks or Richard Russo, she urges us to be open to the humanity beneath the screw-up, the kernel of goodness beneath the lawbreaker. Her ordinary people just want to be loved ... Tinti’s own considerable strengths make us care about the outcome. She fuses urgent, vibrant storytelling with a keen understanding of broken people desperate to be whole.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...at once ingenious and odd, riveting and mysterious ... What begins as an odd-couple buddy story quickly transmutes into a noir thriller and, finally, into spine-tingling surrealism. The thrill and pain of the blues, black America’s foundational music, propel this book from conventional start to eerie finish. Its white protagonists are fascinated by it, motivated by it, ultimately undone by it ... The final 70 pages or so make for a dizzying, disorienting ride, a la Pynchon or DeLillo. All this shape-shifting and genre-shifting requires an adventurous reader. But those willing to suspend disbelief will be richly rewarded. White Tears is a brave, ambitious novel. While moving at breakneck speed, it manages to speak volumes about race and justice, power and enthrallment, cultural appropriation, friendship and the power of music to transport us to realms beyond words.
RaveThe Boston GlobeWhatever subject strikes his?fancy, Lewis renders it clear?and understandable while?showcasing its human drama. In this realm of exalted journalistic wizardry, he is surely kin to Tracy Kidder and Malcolm Gladwell ... Lewis ably explains their discoveries, and his crisp prose has an admirable quality of cutting to the chase.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleA sweeping work of narrative history that synthesizes the work of countless historians, the book is intended as an evenhanded account that recognizes fragments of nobility and humanity amid epic tragedy ... Without implying any false equivalence, Cozzens emphasizes history’s tangled complexity. Outbreaks of violence were sometimes provoked by Indians, sometimes by whites. Neither side had a monopoly on cruelty ... Cozzens excels at crisp, muscular prose that offers clear pictures of men at war ... If individual battles are described with clarity and brio, the reader’s overall sense of things can nonetheless be blurred.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn English, Kidder has as fascinating a subject as one can imagine ... Kidder knows a good subject when he sees it. The ambitious and troubled English gave the author nearly unlimited access to his world, both professional and personal...So the book has an absorbing fly-on-the-wall feel ... Kidder’s prose glides with a figure skater’s ease, but without the glam. His is a seemingly artless art, like John McPhee’s, that conceals itself in sentences that are necessary, economical, and unpretentious.
RaveNewsday...[a] great sprawling feast of a first novel ... [Hill] packs The Nix with cultural commentary that manages to be both darkly satirical and uproariously funny. While wildly original, Hill is clearly the spawn of Thomas Pynchon and Stanley Elkin.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleIt’s a surreal, mixtape world that splices one historical era with another for the sake of sharper perception of racial realities. Thus Cora’s perilous northward journey becomes not only a stirring adventure tale but also a symbolic recapitulation and appraisal of the larger African American story ... For all its virtues, The Underground Railroad is marred by a tendency to awkward didacticism ... The Underground Railroad must be considered that rare breed, a memorable novel without a memorable central character.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleMeans has created a mythical world that scholars will be chewing over for years. In the meantime, everyday readers can exult in suspenseful storytelling, spot-on dialogue and the rush of take-no-prisoners prose that veers from the lyrical to the horrific. It’s no exaggeration to say that Means writes some of the most inventive sentences since Don DeLillo. Characterization, however, is not Means’ strong suit. For each of his major players, I wanted more backstory, more layers.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeCohen skillfully frames the case within the context of the early 20th century eugenics movement...Although the book suffers from repetition of the legal arguments as the case proceeds through the courts, its considerable power lies in Cohen’s closer examination of the principal actors.
PositiveNewsdayFor all its pleasures, this novel does suffer from its posthumous publication. Hijuelos, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and other novels, died in 2013. Had he lived longer, I suspect, he would have shortened the book, tightened its focus and avoided some graceless bits.
PositiveSan Fransisco Gate“This is an authorized biography, but one worthy of our trust. Sisman doesn’t hesitate to point out when his research shows that le Carré’s own accounts of events are inaccurate. Rich in detail—600 pages of fairly small print—the book is nonetheless unfailingly engrossing.”
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleSchiff might have given in to passions as strong as Martha Carrier’s. But her intelligence, pithy prose and storytelling flair carry the day, sweeping the reader along to a realm at once forbiddingly foreign and frighteningly familiar.