MixedThe Washington PostAfter a while, the accumulating evidence that Jamie willfully ignores becomes tedious. It puts the reader so far ahead of the story that Jamie seems determinedly dim rather than what she is: a victim stuck in a cycle of abuse and emotional withholding. Telling the story of how a person gets caught up in such a situation is worthy, but we don’t get enough of a sense of Jamie’s emotional character to understand why she behaves this way. Throughout the book, Jamie remains a mostly blank slate maneuvered around to serve the plot ... Jamie’s playing along is often the only thing driving the story forward, which wilts its momentum like a crisp shirt on a hot day ... Florida Woman’s greatest strength is its sense of place. Rogers has an equal grasp of sun-baked life on the sandy coasts and the humid wilderness of the interior ... Rogers’s affection for Atlas’s animals is also clear ... Jamie’s transformation is so longed-for that it can only feel cathartic, and the story’s conclusion is efficiently set up and threaded together for an ending that’s well-plotted and satisfying, although not exactly plausible or surprising ... I had high hopes for Florida Woman because, well, I am one. Although Rogers finds some tenderhearted balance between the weirdness and wonder of my home state, the promise of this backwoods mystery falls flat in the hands of a flimsy protagonist.
Stephen Graham Jones
RaveThe Washington PostJones’s My Heart Is a Chainsaw is such an accomplishment; it makes me want to watch all the horror. This novel is a paean to slasher films, a devotional about an acolyte written by an obsessive. And it’s a lot of fun ... Jade’s awkwardness and insecurities, her intractable obstinacy, her refusal to behave in a socially acceptable manner, all make her a believable nuisance to the adults in her life...She’s respectful and patient, with an irrepressible sense of humor to balance our her sense of horror. We’re so much on her side we find ourselves hoping for the worst ... When things get going, they really go gonzo, and we’re scrabbling to hang on by our fingernails throughout the climax. Everything promised in the first act is gleefully delivered in the third with comedy, pathos and a machete clutched in the hands of an unforgettable character.
PositiveThe Washington PostAn addictive romance filled with deep feeling, crackling attraction and cackling laughs ... Ruthie and Teddy each have to address their demons, but these leads are refreshingly aware of their flaws and willing to do the work to overcome them. Their ragged edges and growing affection fit them together like symbiotes. The stakes of this love story aren’t sky high, but Thorne’s genius is in layering the emotions with idiosyncratic details that take your breath away ... Things might wrap up just a touch too neatly, but this compulsively readable romance will have your heart squeezing and soaring from beginning to end. As soon as you turn the last page, you’ll be fighting the urge to flip back to page one. And if you’re like this reader, you’ll lose.
MixedThe Washington Post... evokes a vision of one woman’s tenacious survival of antebellum cruelty and objectification ... Before her arrival at the jail, Pheby’s perspective feels naive and unspecific ... Her mother’s familiar scent clearly moves Pheby, but no description invites the reader to share the feeling. She relates events as they happen to her but only inconsistently anchors them in the details, dialogue or personal emotions that would give Pheby’s character texture and singularity ... As Pheby settles into life under Lapier’s brutal surveillance, her point of view becomes a more essential window to the story ... The high wire Pheby balances on provides the novel’s keenest tension, but its potential is sometimes lost among underserved narrative threads and plot points that don’t pay off. Ultimately, Johnson’s author’s note may be the most fascinating chapter of all: a description of the true stories that inspired the novel.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe manifold reboots of Pride and Prejudice practically require their own section in the bookstore these days, so when you pick up a rom-com with lead characters named Darcy and Elle, you might think you know what you’re in for. But Alexandria Bellefleur’s queer romance Written in the Stars gives its inspo a mere wink before unfolding into a distinctly modern frolic, charming and effervescent and entirely itself ... This is a dyed-in-the-wool rom-com, filled with familiar tropes ... What makes Written in the Stars so refreshing is that it doesn’t rely on flimsy constructs ... The ending they find together feels hopeful, happy and written in the . . . well, you know.
V. E. Schwab
RaveThe Washington Post...the latest tour de force from fantasy master V.E. Schwab ... Addie’s earliest days — friendless, sad and solitary — are the hardest to get through, but Schwab’s tantalizing flashes forward and back in time create questions that need answers ... one of the most propulsive, compulsive and captivating novels in recent memory.
RaveThe Washington PostThe beauty and the heartbreak of this novel is that it’s not preposterous. It feels true and affecting, elegiac and imminent ... Franny has an irresistible gravitational pull. The mystery of her bleak grief draws you in. Her affinity for the natural world, especially birds, is nearly mythical. She seems heroically strong, but within her first-person narrative, we see she feels just as human and as helpless as the rest of us ... The fractured timeline fills each chapter with suspense and surprises, parceled out so tantalizingly that it took disciplined willpower to keep from skipping down each page to see what happens. At every turn, the exhilarating events of the plot — tempests at sea! fugitives on the run! — are enriched by deep themes illustrated with broad metaphors and intricate details ... In many ways, this is a story about grieving, an intimate tale of anguish set against the incalculable bereavements of climate change. There are many losses, but lives are also saved. Franny charts our course through a novel that is efficient and exciting, indicting but forgiving, and hard but ultimately hopeful.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe confrontations they do have are dealt with quickly and without escalation. Theirs is not so much a thrilling romance as a picture of effective communication and mutual understanding. Each helps the other with an important decision, providing a key emotional insight when it’s most needed ... [Vivian\'s] openhearted joy in these new experiences invites the reader to appreciate the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of England with the delight of a newcomer. For an American reader, the foreign country feels magical during the holiday season, and through Vivian we get to revel in the charms without suffering the chilly weather ... gives positive representation of a mature, respectful, sex-positive couple of a certain age, but without much specificity. Malcolm and Vivian are broadly drawn characters, without the quirks and idiosyncrasies that would make them singular. As a result, some of their interactions feel superficial, like an amiable portrait whose subjects we can never fully know ... Even so, it takes courage to open up one’s life to love, so it’s impossible to resist empathizing with the characters as they embrace their vulnerabilities and give each other the ultimate holiday gift: a love that feels too good to be true and the vow to try to believe in it together.
RaveThe Washington PostPullman turns a shrewd eye to institutional corruption, the casual evil of complicity, the systematic subjugation of the poor and the vulnerability of women navigating a man’s world. Told through the alternating points of view of Lyra, her allies and her enemies, the novel is at once a gripping adventure story, a tense spy thriller and a dynastic political drama ... At over 600 pages, the story is neither brief nor straight to the point, but it’s well worth sinking into. It is perhaps the most overtly philosophical addition to a body of work already brimming with big ideas ... As always, Pullman’s writing is simple, unpretentious, beautiful, true. And it feels especially relevant to our times ... the author manages a delicate blossom of romance with a marvelously light touch.
RaveThe Washington Post... wry, uncanny, original and, above all, an engrossing, unnerving thriller ... The world that Alex navigates feels intimately lived-in. A Yale alum, Bardugo name-checks New Haven’s buildings, streets, restaurants and stores. Except for Lethe, all the secret societies featured in the novel actually exist. These elements create a fluid feeling of not knowing precisely where reality leaves off and fantasy takes over, creating layers of mystery for the reader ... Alex is a potent mix of flinty strength and raw vulnerability and a brilliant instrument to channel the novel’s tone, which is simultaneously elegant and grotesque, eerie and earthbound ... Alex stands at the crossroads of privilege and pragmatism, and her unique point of view opens the most relatable and often the funniest windows into the story’s themes ... Investigative momentum propels Alex through some convincing misdirection before she comes to a climactic confrontation that resonates emotionally. Alex gets answers, but they lead her only to new questions, leaving readers hungry as a hellbeast for the sequel that is sure to follow.
PositiveWashington PostWith all the cutthroat competition of a runway fashion reality show and the thrilling exploits of an epic quest, Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn weaves a stunning tapestry of adventure ... Based in the sights, sounds and stories of ancient China, the novel’s setting is one of its most rewarding aspects. Lim evokes a landscape that is distinct in the crowded field of YA fantasy titles, and she metes out information at a pace that generates curiosity — though sometimes frustration, too ... Maia’s rendering as a master artist and craftswoman is complete and believable, and she ends this first volume in a predicament that is bound to test her will and skill, and leaves the reader wanting to know what comes next.
RaveThe Washington Post...a sprawling novel about a thoughtful boy’s premature journey into manhood ... As a narrator, Eli is a casual philosopher who takes in the glory and consequence of the smallest quotidian details, and his acute observations are often refracted through his singular lens of farce and surrealism ... His loss of innocence comes in narrative sucker punches, plot turns that evoke stomach-clenching terror and sickening grief ... Boy Swallows Universe hypnotizes you with wonder, and then hammers you with heartbreak.
RaveThe Philadelphia InquiererWhat makes these experiences so affecting is they happen to Eli and August, two immensely and immediately lovable characters. Almost from the first page, Eli’s lolloping descriptions reveal each brother’s stark individuality, but also a compelling fraternal devotion and understanding. They remain each other’s only constants throughout a young adulthood littered with traumas large and small ... hypnotizes you with wonder and then hammers you with heartbreak. The events of Eli’s life are often fatal and tragic, but fate and tragedy do not overpower the story. Eli’s remarkably poetic voice and his astonishingly open heart take the day. They enable him to carve out the best of what’s possible from the worst of what is, which is the miracle that makes this novel marvelous.
PositiveThe Washington Post\"These characters are finely drawn and wholly sympathetic, their lives rendered in precise, poignant detail. The female characters particularly are gifted with uncommon clarity, each of a different kind ... Though Setterfield writes emotions with marvelous truth and subtlety, her most stunning prose is reserved for evocative descriptions of the natural world, creating an immersive experience made of light, texture, scent and sensation ... The novel’s central mysteries are dispatched in one dramatic scene that feels overwrought, especially given that this is not a tightly plotted whodunit so much as a story for those who appreciate the tale’s telling as much as its end...\