PositiveUSA TodayThis book would have fit happily within the diversity of today’s young adult novels, but by writing The Boy With a Bird in His Chest for an adult audience, Lund can afford more page time teasing out the intricacies of her scenes, which are rendered in lucid and precise prose ... The gothic weirdness of a bird living in a ribcage could easily have become distracting; instead, in Lund’s caring hands, it deepens the book’s themes of difference and connection ... Though Owen and Clyde are rich and rounded, other characters reduce in complexity over the course of the book ... That said, this is a gentle, compassionate exploration of how we can learn to love the things that make us different.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveUSA Today... full of grandeur, but without even a whiff of grandiosity. It’s transporting and brilliant and generous, and I haven’t ever read anything quite like it ... Sea of Tranquility uses its innovative narrative structure to generate new insights into how humans relate in the midst of disease and tragedy. This is a technique Mandel already practiced in Station Eleven, but this book doesn’t feel like a cynical retread. The storylines in Sea of Tranquility reference one another even as they call back to Mandel’s previous work, coming together to provide an abundance of moments in which individual characters believe that this, now, here, must be the worst moment in the history of the world.
MixedUSA TodayHawley the fiction writer is at his best when pitching his taut setup and its well-drawn cast of characters. The mystery of the dying teenagers, and the Prophet’s quest to confront a mysterious cruel man named the Wizard, will solidly hook in readers. The book’s premise is aided by its vivid characterizations ... After its promising opening sequences, though, Anthem loses its considerable magnetism and fails to regain it. The book’s focus frays and dissipates; chapters invest in new characters only to abandon them pages later, surge in new story directions before hitting a wall and limping back to an increasingly brittle main plot. These narrative moves feel less like daring experimentation and more like signs that the author has lost interest in his own novel and is looking for a new one.
PositiveUSA TodayIf Juhea Kim’s Beasts of a Little Land were filmed, you’d want to see it in theaters, with a giant screen and a sweeping soundtrack. Military campaigns, anti-capitalist gatherings, orphan girls groomed into world-famous courtesans, street rats rising to glory, all against the backdrop of Korea’s tumultuous 20th century – the cast grows large and the storyline reaches far ... You wouldn’t know from reading it that Beasts of a Little Land is Kim’s debut novel. There is no shortage of ambition on display here, and fleet-footed narrative pacing to match it ... Kim drops her characters into interesting scenes but often leaves them inert, as if we’re watching a filmstrip. The narrative describes their internal states at length, but action feels muddy and distant. The effect is that the book can feel like it’s written in synopsis, that we’re getting the digested version of the characters’ raw experience ... Still, this is a book written with warmth, wisdom, and an inherent sense for the dramatic. Readers who take to its style will gladly follow the tangled lives of its charismatic cast.
PositiveUSA TodayThe Book and Form and Emptiness itself talk[s] to us. In another book that metatextual overlay might feel too clever or precious, but this novel’s earnest, self-deprecating voice merges effortlessly into Ozeki’s theme of the overlooked agency of objects ... Though Ozeki handled similar topics with perhaps more agility in her debut novel, My Year of Meats, this novel’s meditative pacing perfectly suits its open-hearted contemplation. The book’s self-awareness allows it to comically hedge and tiptoe, to digress into diatribes...only to catch itself and sheepishly apologize ... It is both profound and fun, a loving indictment of our consumer culture.
PositiveUSA Today... ambitious, sweeping ... In the book’s opening chapters, Parker-Chan masterfully balances poetry and tension, keeping the reader flying through the pages as they watch Zhu gain a foothold in life. Whether lugging around slopping washbasins or binding her breasts to prevent exposure, Zhu is sympathetic and resilient. Parker-Chan doesn’t establish Zhu’s male gender expression as merely a trick to survive; it is very much a part of her identity. When Zhu comes to desire a woman in her circle, we get a fuller portrait of how queer lives might have been lived in 14th-century China ... Though Ouyang’s characterization references old queer villain tropes, it’s rescued by the richness of other LGBTQ representation in this novel ... Scenes of kindness and compassion are nearly absent from She Who Became the Sun, and this restricted emotional range makes the long middle feel surprisingly stagnant, despite what ought to be juicy conflicts. Tonally, too, the poetic language of the book’s opening chapters feels less well-considered in its second half ... Despite these slight missteps, this is an important debut that expands our concept of who gets to be a hero and a villain, and introduces a pair of gender disruptors who are destined to change China – and the LGBTQ fantasy canon – forever.
PositiveUSA TodayNatasha Pulley poses such a beguiling set of questions at the opening of The Kingdoms that even readers who are resistant to speculative fiction will barrel forward to discover the answers ... Time travel in fiction is much better at posing tantalizing questions than it is at providing satisfying answers, and The Kingdoms is no exception. Though Pulley is a terrific writer, steeping her scenes in atmospheric language and telling detail, her novel, taut at its opening, muddies and slows as it enters its long middle act. Though Pulley is ever clever in how she weaves her timelines together, the book\'s pace flags as the reader labors to keep everyone straight. There’s also the inevitable problem of lessened stakes – when people can jump between centuries, the outcome of any one conversation or relationship doesn’t matter as much ... For the most part, though, The Kingdoms is a success. Pulley brings much to the table here, including fascinating details about the rough and intimate life on wooden military ships (my favorite was the wine kept at the bottom of the hold, where it would stay chilled) and the pleasant surprise of a queer romance. The Kingdoms is interested not only in the adventure of its historical and imaginative plot, but also in what it would actually feel like to slip out of time.
RaveUSA Today\"Each story is somehow both desolate and invigorating ... The power of Taylor’s finely crafted stories comes partly from how effectively they each tease and then steer away from cliche; every paragraph and scene is both familiar and, through the precision of Taylor’s language, unsettlingly strange ... Taylor is an important literary talent, not least for his ability to render the familiar into the shockingly unfamiliar. Full of beauty and harshness, the complex and startling stories of Filthy Animals will stick with readers long after the pages are read.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
PositiveUSA TodayReaders who want more of a good thing will be excited to dive into The Committed ... The vibrant self-centeredness of 1980s Paris is perfectly captured in Nguyen’s observant prose ... The plot is frantic and violent – or would be if it weren’t relayed in the wry, intellectually conflicted voice of this narrator. We learn so much about his internal life that the storyline becomes almost beside the point… which is good, as after an electric opening act The Committed turns muddy and difficult to follow ... Even the novel’s eventual scenes of torture carry barely a whiff of tension or horror. Acts of utmost violence and betrayal are, instead, causes for sardonic rumination ... Readers who found new ways to think about race and the refugee experience in The Sympathizer will find plenty more to explore.
PositiveUSA Today[She] is interested in how the perception of a relationship can carry as much weight as the relationship itself. Through her precise and unflinching language, a revealing account emerges of how one mind opens to another, how it processes each decision and moment of wondering ... The protagonist’s academic interests feature heavily, too. That results in some riveting sequences, as when she returns to China to study a town whose residents are professional art copyists ... a profound meditation on the meaning of originality in the face of convincing facsimiles ... Other nonfiction digressions are less successful, making the portrayal of the relationship at the book’s core feel stagnant for long stretches ... Novels about love affairs are often named romances, but the most distinctive quality of A Lover’s Discourse is how unromantic it is ... Given how fully the book gives itself over to examining him, the \'you\' lover remains disappointingly vague by the end of A Lover’s Discourse. Of course, that may well be the book’s intent.
PositiveUSA TodayIf avoiding categorizations is what allowed Akhtar to pull off this masterful combination of essay and diary, I’m glad he did ... intellectual explorations of identity and self-presentation are coupled with deep emotional urgency ... Some readers may be put off by his occasional long paragraphs recounting all the famous people he’s met, or the repeated mentions of his Pulitzer Prize as if it’s new information each time. The book’s register can be uneven, too, its natural rhythms jolted by bursts of obscure vocabulary. For the book’s narrator, though, all this posturing might just be another means to stake his claim to a readership that resists him ... With its insight and honesty, Homeland Elegies deserves to be read widely during this polarizing election year, when the once porous boundaries between friend and foe are deepening into trenches.
RaveUSA Today... inspired ... In Cook’s masterful hands, there are no easy answers to the question of whether humans can actually revert to their wild selves ... seems to argue that it is this willingness to ditch guidelines in the name of personal advantage that is the essence of humanity, whether one lives in the City or the Wilderness State...That’s all secondary to the true, transcendent heart of this novel: the evolving and ever-surprising relationship between Bea and Agnes. Through miscarriages, abandonments, rescue and murder, the bond between mother and daughter breaks and mends in remarkable and moving ways ... A gripping adventure that denies its readers easy answers, The New Wilderness is an important debut, and an illuminating read in these times, when the stakes of humans’ relationship with nature have never felt higher.
MixedUSA TodayThis \'found document\' technique has produced many great novels, but overreliance on the diary form in particular comes dangerously close to making Devolution implausible from the start ... Diary-form problems notwithstanding, the action sequences are riveting – the hulking Sasquatch creatures make for thrillingly fearsome opponents ... It’s not clear just what the author intends us to feel: Are we supposed to be rooting for the self-satisfied residents, or for the displaced killer Sasquatches? The answer could be neither. Devolution’s mocking attitude toward its characters comes at the cost of its suspense ... an ambitious mishmash of individually interesting pieces. Not quite sharp enough for compelling satire, a little too sneering for effective horror, it will find plenty of readers among devotees of Brooks, but will be a miss for most general readers.
Perumal Murugan, trans. by N. Kalyan Raman
PositiveUSA Today... elegant ... With its unnamed farming couple and a sense that magic’s always glittering at the horizon, The Story of a Goat could easily be read as a fable. But Murugan’s marvelously observant narrative is equally interested in the visceral daily life of a farm creature ... gives the book a realism that makes Poonachi much more than a symbol ... The greatest achievement of this remarkable novel is the empathy its adult readers will feel for a non-human creature; through Poonachi’s tale we are reminded how much bonds us with the animal world.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave
PositiveUSA Today... elegant and chilling ... begins with the frenzy of the storm and its deadly aftermath and finishes on a similar crescendo as the trial reaches its culmination. For the novel’s long middle, Hargrave slows the narrative down to explore the fascinating daily lives of a matriarchy isolated in the frozen north ... Hargrave teases out compelling questions about the effects of misogyny and xenophobia on the lives of women, both in the book’s 17th-century world and our own 21st-century world. Her unflinching depiction of the witch trials captures the visceral horror of the policing of women’s bodies, as well as the petty jealousies and power grabs that motivate it ... Though Hargrave’s prose is accomplished and poised, the characters\' emotional lives often feel held at arm’s length. These are a taciturn people living in a cold land, and though the coldness of the book’s narrative voice fits that world, there are times when the retrained storytelling feels mismatched with the heat and drama of the book’s events ... Patient readers will find an exquisitely written story that works both as a parable for our times and as an absorbing account of women finding power and grace and love even under the most harrowing circumstances.
PositiveUSA TodayThe Warehouse is a thriller of ideas, and its interplay of taut action and incisive cultural commentary gives it shades of Fahrenheit 451 and Jurassic Park. The storyline isn’t nearly as exciting as Crichton’s was—in fact, for stretches it’s downright slow, and could have done with some trimming—but Hart makes up for that with his deep character work ... When The Warehouse lives in this dissonance between good intentions and corporate desolation, it really shines. Hart creates a fully believable surveillance state ... But Hart doesn’t quite turn scolding; he never loses sight of what makes tech seductive, its instant feedback and drone-delivered convenience.
MixedUSA TodayKing, the novel’s pseudonymous author, takes infectious joy in his imagined world; its impressive layers are the best reason to read the book. FKA USA is riddled with footnotes and digressions and interludes and commentaries. This avalanche of minutiae makes it feel as if King is talking at us more than telling us a story, however, and the storyline, already on the wispy side, soon suffocates ... If taken less as a novel than as an encyclopedia of an imagined future, FKA USA has a lot to offer ... For such a futuristic world, though, FKA USA’s sexual politics are decidedly retrograde. Women are either lavishly hot or grotesquely unattractive ... Richly textured but curiously shapeless, FKA USA is a wander through a strange and fascinating future, nudged along by weak currents of story.
RaveUSA TodayTold through a retrospective lens, the tales of these four carry an almost mythological weight, and Conklin’s wise, sharp prose makes this book the sort you want to press into the hands of someone you love as soon as you finish ... Conklin examines her characters’ lives with generosity and an unflinching eye for the complexities of love and family ... Fans of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections will find similar pleasures in the intelligence and empathy on display here. Conklin manages to rove between viewpoints and decades without ever veering into cleverness or self-consciousness. Instead, The Last Romantics is moving and utterly engrossing, a juicy tale of the heart that never insults its reader’s intelligence.
MixedUSA TodayForest Dark is brilliant, inventive and ambitious. It is also meandering, aloof and forbidding. Although it will reward you, you’ll have to work for it ... Brainy conceits are not automatically wise ones. It’s risky for an author to ask readers to care about reading about a writer who has nothing to say to her readers. If 'Nicole' is finding all this novel business to be drudgery, can Krauss expect much more from us? Ultimately, that’s where this experiment runs onto shaky ground. It will be fascinating to some, but many will finish Forest Dark with a shrug. Though beautifully told and fiendishly conceived, it stays at a remove, a treat for the mind but not the heart.
PositiveUSA Today...a clear-eyed and often hilarious deep dive into some old standbys of children’s literature. Though it would be easy to fall into either rapture or diatribe, Handy treats his literary subjects like family members, with admiration and infuriation and love. He’s a perceptive and affable close reader ... Though it’s a fun journey, it’s a little unclear whom this book is for: Handy is an editor at Vanity Fair, not a children’s literature scholar, and it sometimes shows. He hasn’t chosen to include the opinions of any children other than his own, and a side consequence of his endearingly conversational tone is occasional thoughtlessness ... Handy might have consulted any of the prominent children’s librarians who would be ready to share their insights. Given that Handy is publishing a book about children’s literature, not discussing it at the dinner table, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that he look a little deeper when his own perspective runs dry. His argument for why he hasn’t included any books from the current boom in children’s literature (except for occasional asides about Harry Potter) similarly feels arbitrary and thin. Like the adoring fan he is, though, Handy brings out the best sides of the books he describes. Maybe the greatest effect of Wild Things is to recover the full power of books that have been diminished in popular perception.
PositiveUSA Today\"Backman carefully sets up the events leading to the sexual assault so it is a constellation of the racism and classism and sexism of the community, an effective dramatization of the novel’s themes. Though its story is undeniably powerful, little about Beartown is subtle: Backman prefers the hammer over the scalpel ... If the opposite of this muscle flexing would be a book with too little emotional content, we should be glad Backman has chosen this side of the bargain. When he turns his talents to unusual subjects, such as a teammate who is secretly gay or the repercussions of trauma, then Beartown rises above its melodramatic tendencies and shines, turning its narrative swagger into an asset. Backman is a canny manipulator of sentiments, and Beartown has all the pleasures of a rainy-day matinee.\
PositiveUSA TodayEven if later stories aren’t quite as inspired, they are never dull; as the collection draws on, though, Ferris’s themes, so powerful when encountered in the individual stories, begin to overlap and repeat ... There are a lot of jilted young men in here, awash in their own pain and not particularly interested in what their own roles might have been in the dissolution of their relationships. When reading them in one volume, a reader might hunger for the tales to be as wide-ranging in their empathies as they are in their storylines. Then again, why shake things up when these stories are so good at capturing this particular sort of funny, panicked and melancholy man? ... Ferris is an incisive observer, and his descriptions of even the most quotidian situations are elegant and fresh.
RaveUSA Today...[a] wise and illuminating new novel ... Smith is a master stylist, delivering revelatory sentences in prose that never once veers into showiness. Though her sentences are tasteful, Smith is always game for a pulpy plot turn...This is a soap opera for the discerning set.
RaveUSA Today...[a] dazzling debut novel ... Hill is an uncommonly profound observer, illuminating much about the relationships between parents and children. Yet amid all its searching and yearning, The Nix remains impressively light on its feet, finding humor in its characters’ plights without ever getting snide about them ... The Nix’s pleasures are similar to those of a short story collection: each shapely chapter is a rich journey in its own right.
PositiveUSA TodayStraub recounts her characters’ yearnings with love and empathy, which makes the book’s wit — and Modern Lovers is screamingly funny— glow with warmth ... Though Straub’s writing is subtle and nimble and brimming with intelligence, on rare occasions the novel’s plot twists can feel inauthentic. Since the most quotidian moments are so compelling, this generally effortless novel can feel stuttering and contrived when she veers into sitcom high jinks.
RaveUSA TodayReading Russo’s latest is like spending time with a friendly gossip, a chatty observer who is above all interested in the doings of ordinary folk. In the hands of a less empathetic author, the recounting of the various stymied lives of Bath’s residents would come off as a skewering of small-town life. While Russo is often winking, he is never judgmental. Though the events of Everybody’s Fool are interesting and colorful, the book’s power comes less from following any one character’s journey and more from rendering the portrait of an entire community, in all its romance and all its grit.
MixedUSA TodayLust & Wonder’s source material is inherently less dramatic than that of Burroughs’ earlier work, more the stuff of diary entries than memoir, making this a lower octane read. That said, there’s pleasure and insight to be gleaned here.
PositiveUSA Today\"For the most part Groff’s writing is striking and revelatory, taking on levels of mythic resonance appropriate to the grandeur of this god-kissed relationship. Sometimes she overplays her hand, and her prose feels strained and overly loud, like a gifted singer belting out every note because she can. Some readers may roll their eyes at a modern character named Lancelot — and in these pages, too, there is a Gawain and a Roland and a dog named God. Fates and Furies can seem out to make an impression first and tell a good story second, but if occasional affectation is the cost of such ambition, it was worth the gamble.\