PositiveAssociated PressThe Peking Express... takes mountains of research and boils it down to a digestible telling of the 1923 train derailment ... [Zimmerman] takes on a surprisingly engaging voice as a historical author, cutting between people and scenes like a movie ... Slow moments dot The Peking Express. But the bits that drag are balanced by shocks of emotion cycling through camaraderie, disgust, elation and many more.
PositiveThe Washington PostRamisetti’s writing is persuasive ... a page-turner packed with mystery, drama and romance. In a world filled with books by and for bookworms, Ramisetti has penned one for film fanatics — with a particular affinity for rom-com ... For better or worse, Ramisetti’s ending is also very Hollywood movie-like: The final chapters tie up an inordinate number of loose ends that honestly didn’t need tying, yet act like a key element was addressed when it wasn’t.
PositiveAssociated PressOn the first page we learn that the main character found her husband, Quentin Morrow, who she thought was perfectly happy, after he killed himself on New Year’s Eve ... A lot of expectations come with that shocker of a prologue: high drama, fast pace, mystery ... Dramatic proves to be a great word to describe this novel. Fast-paced and mysterious? Only a touch ... Nwabineli relies heavily on these flashbacks early on, when time moves excruciatingly slowly in an embodiment of fresh, festering grief ... Nwabineli deftly weaves Eve’s Igbo heritage into the story, incorporating phrases, food and traditions ... Then, about halfway through the book, Nwabineli drops a bomb that changes the rules of the game. What had become a lull of spiraling depression gets the jolt that Eve — and the story — needed ... An earnest study on grief that forces you to examine it and not look away. For as long as the anguish is there, we are in Eve’s head experiencing it with her.
T C Boyle
MixedThe Associated PressBoyle is well published with over two dozen books under his belt. It shows in the steady voice prominent throughout his collection, whether the protagonist is a teen or an old man or a middle-aged woman. Though the variability doesn’t go much further than that ... Ten out of 13 short stories in I Walk Between the Raindrops feature a straight, presumably white, male character, many of whom are self-righteous, racist, misogynistic, or some combination of those three. The other three narratives still include such characters, they just don’t weigh in as heavily as, say, a straight white woman ... Sometimes, these annoyingly recurring traits become the crux of the story, and Boyle invites the reader to inspect or even laugh at them. Other times, they’re the default mode and nothing more ... The ideas lack originality, with two of the stories paralleling Black Mirror ... Rather than creative story concepts or exploring non-normative people, what Boyle shines in is appreciating a character through and through — the voice, psychology, and mannerisms that make each one unique despite heavy overlaps in their demographic Venn Diagram ... Considering it’s the collection’s namesake, I Walk Between the Raindrops falls flat, serving as a poor introduction. But Boyle’s conversational style and tidbits of wry humor grew on me with each tale. He freshens stale plots and trope-riddled characters by dropping a delightful assortment of knowledge into each vignette ... Among the best of the book’s fictions is the endearing final story Dog Lab, about a medical student struggling with the morality of operating on his canine patient. In it, Boyle showcases his capability with an engaging plot, engrossing details and rich characterizations.
RaveAssociated PressWatkins’ approach is as suspenseful as a crime novel, as dramatic as a soap opera, and as familiar as your own family ... Perish is raw and deeply upsetting, but Watkins manages difficult, taboo subjects with grace and grit ... Watkins handles her characters with deep respect and care, capturing voice down to minute details and trauma in its most distilled and digestible form without sacrificing impact.
PositiveThe Associated PressHamid takes his penchant for long, stream-of-consciousness sentences and cranks it up to 10. These sentences that stretch for days, overflowing with clauses and fragments, hurl readers along a whirlwind of thoughts ... basks in long-winded streams of narration that sometimes end in such lackluster ideas ... the occasional need to re-read a paragraph-long sentence is well worth the ride ... Grandeur and mundanity swirl into a fever dream of a story in which days and weeks slip by without any sure marks of time. The overall effect is a light fuzziness that makes any topic approachable, but makes everything hard to fully grasp and focus on ... Less than 200 pages, The Last White Man is a quick read. The novel ramps down gently before ending abruptly, leaving a vague, conflicting sense of both satisfaction and unease.
RaveThe Associated PressIt’s about time someone took the princess story that’s normalized to girls and autopsy it with absolute precision ... not for the faint of heart; Bourland holds no punches with absolutely gruesome descriptions of medical trauma ... The stage is set for misery. Bourland reveals from the first handful of pages that Caroline is trapped at wit’s end on display as lover Finn’s gleaming jewel sequestered in the castle. Yet the writing is smart enough, the story good enough, to get swept away in their chemistry until reality comes crashing back ... Carefully crafted wordplay flits through the pages ... Descriptions fit for dreams or nightmares, vivid and evocative, capture how one’s environment can affect everything ... despite the narrator Caroline supposedly being uneducated, Bourland’s immense vocabulary still ekes through ... grips with the strength of an Olympian and holds it with the endurance of a marathoner. Bourland’s passionate storytelling transmogrifies into an insatiable urge to keep reading Caroline’s story even after its end — an ending that actually caught my breath, not once, but twice in quick succession.
PositiveAssociated PressWith the smooth suspense of a novel and the openness of a journal, Bhat’s writing is transportive as it pops from one major event to the next ... The vignettes reflect Nina’s growth through the writing’s voice and style. Early chapters use funky metaphors and chunks of context overflowing with detail. Later chapters are blunt, describing bare facts of events and allowing the gut-wrenching sorrow of mistakes, failures and regrets to live between the lines of the text. It’s tough to tell which is a worse feeling — or perhaps better captured — but the entire novel is deeply effective and moving ... Both profound and meaningless. True to life, there is no great moral. The book is neither tragic nor triumphant. Baht’s novel is a slice of life that will either ring eerily true, or be a highly educational experience in empathy.
PositiveAssociated PressMonique Roffey isn’t giving us an endearing tale of love — this is a story of duality and curses ... Sexual tension is constant throughout a story that, perversely, loses steam as it nears its climax. Roffey, however, makes up for a lackluster ending with the strong storytelling up to that point ... Vivid imagery, discussion-worthy themes, Creole verbiage and a melding of history and magic make The Mermaid of the Black Conch come to life. It’s a confluence of lore in which subtle details change depending on who is telling the story.
Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Najimy, Linda Perry, Chely Wright, Lauren Blitzer
MixedThe Associated PressIts immense diversity offers numerous chances for readers to connect with the situations and people therein ... Some answers, however, hardly hold connection to the original question, \'What was the moment in your life when you realized you were ready to fight for yourself?\' ... It doesn’t take but a handful of these stories to see that the form the responses take hardly matters. Actually, the oddballs among them serve to accentuate the theme of the whole book: These women have had enough and will do what they believe is right, even if — especially if — it doesn’t fit into the prescribed mold ... Variety aside, My Moment gets tiring and repetitive. After all, as the title says, there are over a hundred of them ... More monotonous sections would have benefited from simply rearranging the stories. Other sections resonated strangely and showed a lack of attention and care ... Despite having completely different messages, some essays were roughly clumped by a perceived shared theme. For example, four mismatched accounts of addiction, eating disorders, and healthy and unhealthy weight loss were all smoosh together in a confused confluence of morphed body and beauty perceptions. On their own, the stories are moving. Together, they\'re discordant ... Thankfully, the shortcomings of the text are not shared by the images. My Moment contains absolutely stunning pictures. The photographers are the authors themselves, their mother, sister, partner or best friend, and they capture the entirety of their subjects. Each portrait is loaded with personality and serves as a beautiful complement to the accompanying short essay ... If you’re looking for an empowering front-to-back read, this probably isn’t it. My Moment is a nice coffee table book — something to pick up and pick through a piece at a time, skipping to a section by a woman you admire or turning to a page at random to see where it takes you.
PositiveThe Associated PressBarasch has created a nesting doll of a novel: It’s a fictional story of a writer writing a fictional story — in which she sometimes has to write a fake version of her novel — written by a real fiction writer whose life bears many striking resemblances to the real-life novel ... unsettling, but surely that’s what a reader wants when they pick up a novel about a woman stalking her boyfriend’s ex. Barasch has a talent for balancing discomfort and empathy, pushing the reader away and pulling them right back. It’s hard to confidently enjoy a book when it feels like doing so enables unhinged behavior for the sake of art and entertainment, but the characters are emotionally engaging, beckoning you to rubberneck the inevitable train wreck ... Splendidly rich descriptions and unexplored queer undertones create unrequited anticipation throughout the novel. Like Naomi, I wondered, \'Where can you possibly go from here to have a satisfying ending?\' The novel’s vague hint at resolution answers, \'You don’t.\'
PositiveThe Associated PressReading Brown’s novel is like eating potato chips: Though there’s little nutritional value, it’s addictively flavored and, after you’ve started, hard to stop until it’s all gone. Generously sprinkled with witty word choice and tasty twists, I’ll Be You is a page-turner in spite of itself ... The breaks are meant to add suspense but often fall short. Minor inconsistencies pop up here and there which, although not important enough to impact the plot, are enough to chip at the suspension of disbelief required for a tale as dramatic as I’ll Be You. It’s not the kind of novel meant for analysis, rather the kind to read on the beach and pass the time snacking away on it ... Brown’s intriguing characters and plot compensate for the novel’s shortcomings. Sam’s and Elli’s voices are just as unique as their personalities ... These twists have solid set-ups, so the reveals are effective and believable with only a slight stretch of the imagination. The choice to go along with whatever wild turn is around the corner is made easier because each one is so interesting and exciting, they’re worth exploring despite any outlandishness.
RaveAssociated PressEngrossing from the start ... The novel explores the complex psychological impact of making decisions about reproduction or, conversely, having those decisions made for you without consent ... Take My Hand boasts gorgeous design and conversational prose. This being her third novel, Perkins-Valdez showcases her talent and experience through her easy command of voice, plot and pacing ... Throughout the novel, detailed descriptions command rapt attention. Between its sizable length and the immense amount of research and history poured into its more than 350 pages, Take My Hand is an excellent example of a Big Ambitious Novel by a 21st-century woman ... This is the kind of story you want to build extra time into reading so you can explore the wealth of history it draws upon.
RaveThe Associated PressSometimes it’s sweet, sometimes funny, sometimes just weird ... The book’s introduction starts by explaining, \'All writers have a peculiar devotion to strangers.\' Colleen Kinder’s curated collection displays that devotion—a special kind of extroverted, artistic pull that makes even the introvert capable of fooling someone into thinking they are the most people-y of people persons. This artistic nature is evident in the latent poetry in each letter’s prose, refreshingly unique in voice from one to the next but all sharing a lyrical quality. Though it reads like the series of letters the title promises, Letter to a Stranger is akin to a travel book. Many of the writers’ impactful encounters happen while away from home and their letters are rich with culture, history, and delicious nuggets of local detail.
RaveThe Associated Press... exactly what it purports to be, though the title couldn’t have prepared me for the level of schooling I was about to get ... split into almost 30 chapters, each one with as much care and integrity as the last ... Filled with the most impeccable details — the ones that rarely make it into tight news reports — Williamson draws on documented facts to paint pertinent portraits of the families and victims of the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting in Newtown, Connecticut ... a well documented explanation of a tragedy, receipts in hand and nicely organized in the book’s notes section ... Expert organization keeps the narrative momentum up, never stagnating on any one person or topic. Williamson artfully lays foundations throughout, using these touch points to gently remind readers who’s who in the long list of people who appear in \'Sandy Hook\' ... That said, the book is exhausting: vivid accounts of grief, heartbreaking details of Sandy Hook, terrifying things people have said and done in the dark anonymity of the internet. The thick web of connections explored within reaches from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to QAnon and everything in between ... Somehow, despite the depressing nature of the subject matter, Sandy Hook remains hopeful ... Conspiracies and our post-truth reality are topics that have become evergreen, making Sandy Hook one of the most important books of 2022
RaveThe Associated PressSmile and Look Pretty captures the tangle of anxiety-ridden thoughts that hang heavy over women during and after misogynistic faux pas. Pellegrino uses a show-don’t-tell style that trusts her audience to recognize and relate to the situations she describes. It even passes the Bechdel test, although more narrowly than expected. But you can’t affect change in the patriarchy without discussing its key players. This feminist novel possesses the nuance to acknowledge both the men who ally themselves with women, and the women who perpetuate misogyny and hierarchical hogwash. Smile and Look Pretty is an affirmation to those who can relate to Cate, Max, Olivia and Lauren, as well as a girl-power rallying cry. In a sea of media in which men are either saviors or villains, and women are their prize, this novel provides a life raft. Filled with wit, humor and snark, if you liked A Promising Young Woman, you’ll enjoy Smile and Look Pretty.
PositiveAssociated PressBlue-Skinned Gods is split into four books. Each book is named after a person who will be lost to Kalki in some way by the end of it. This pattern emerges quickly, revealing just enough to heighten the tension and drama without giving away too much of the story ... The novel’s abrupt turns gain frequency with each book, down to the last page and the final twist. Sindu’s applied cultural knowledge and careful character-building makes each surprise believable without being predictable ... Although the ending is climactic and jarring, it provides both resolve and clarity.
PositiveThe Associated PressPalm Beach becomes increasingly difficult to put down as the life of heroine Rebecca turns down a twisty path that challenges her rigid morals and forces her to reconsider her priorities ... Mary Adkins writes a strong female lead ... Palm Beach invites you to cringe both at and with Rebecca ... equal parts beautiful and uncomfortable. It is saturated with in-between-ness, calling into question what defines \'us\' and \'them.\' Lines blur and expectations aren’t met, keeping readers on their toes. Adkins’ blunt, heavy-handed style makes for a surprisingly fast-paced Palm Beach.
RaveThe Associated Press... not a book to pick up lightly — it will make you fall in love with the characters, it will break your heart, it will make you laugh and cry and feel all the emotions the characters feel through author Allison Larkin\'s tremendous talent for bringing characters to life ... worth every gut-wrenching turn along the way ... Interspersed with lyrics, Larkin’s writing is simple yet profound. The novel demands that readers pause to digest it in spite of the urge to keep devouring every word. April is a difficult character to leave behind, but The People We Keep gratifies readers with a keenly satisfying ending that feels real and beautiful and worth the tears shed to get there.