PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt may be difficult for these characters to realize their flaws and tangled desires, but it sure is pleasurable to read about them ... Although the book takes place over just six days, occasional interludes provide rich portraits of a character’s history ... Over all, the mythological lens feels inoffensive but unnecessary; most of the time it made me wonder why more characters weren’t aware of the allusions ... Swann’s novel is most successful at its violent, surprising turning point. I won’t dare to give it away. I read without breathing — OK, maybe I gasped — and I experienced the characters’ grief and regret as if they were my own. However, once the narrative moved past this climactic event, it too often relied on confessional or confrontational dialogue to do its dramatic work. The town of Olympus faded into the background, and the story felt a bit inert ... Not that this kept me from turning its pages and finding pleasure in its revelations ... I could have stayed in this particular somewhere for a long while.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewA brief biography in the first novel becomes, in Magic Lessons, a rich, continent-leaping epic of Maria’s life ... The historical irony provides a protracted Girl don’t go in there! brand of suspense; it’s enjoyable, if a little on the nose ... A lot happens, yet the plot doesn’t feel overstuffed. Storytelling is in Hoffman’s bones, and the skill with which she dispenses information and compresses time, so that a year passes in a sentence, so that a tragedy witnessed becomes the propeller for a hundred-page subplot, is (forgive me) bewitching. My current reality feels chaotic and confusing; to have a narrator take my hand and tell me that linden root and yarrow will cure a racing heart, that witches turn silver dull with their touch, is an undiluted pleasure ... But for all its delights, Magic Lessons is dark. Witch after witch suffers at the hands of ignorant, cruel me ... That this novel is both fantasy and history is crucial ... Witchcraft comes at a price to those who practice it, and with this novel, Hoffman reminds us that every woman, magical or not, pays, be it with her life, or how she must dress, or whom she must marry. We’ve always known that, for certain women, the cost is higher. This deeper subject is so resonant that, at times, the novel’s love theme struck me as contrived, even irrelevant, a vestige of a franchise that has grown darker and deeper. However, the disconnect did not inhibit my enjoyment; Hoffman’s book swept me away during a time I most needed it.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewCleverly, Wolas opens the novel with an essay from a literary magazine about Ashby and her work, providing an overview of an exceptional career, including excerpts from both of Joan’s books. Before we come to know Joan Ashby, the person, we have already met Joan Ashby, the author. This second identity is the one our heroine connects to more keenly … What slows the narrative down are the excerpts from her work. It’s frustrating to read mere portions of a short story or novel, in part because they require we take leave of Joan’s vivid fictional life. Joan Ashby’s writing is a touch amateur; for instance, raindrops are ‘big as cats and dogs,’ and her characters read like fantasies of free spirits more than actual people. It’s hard to believe her fiction would have influenced the literary conversation or made her an international best seller.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleLosing It deftly charts the shifting temperatures of awkward social situations, and the reader gets to wince along with its characters. If the story’s premise at times feels a little narrow, it’s only because Julia herself is such a rich heroine whom I would happily read about, no matter the plot ... Rathbone’s accuracy is what makes her so funny; it’s her grace as a writer that elevates this book from a series of comedic one-liners to art.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times\"Fiction, thankfully, lets us experience and learn from the lives of others. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff\'s audacious and gorgeous third novel, offers readers such access by depicting over two decades between a husband and wife. The result is not only deliciously voyeuristic but also wise on the simultaneous comforts and indignities of romantic partnership...Lauren Groff has taken the struggles and pleasures of marriage and turned them into art, and in that artfulness she reminds us of the dangers and omissions that any storytelling requires.\