PositiveUSA TodayOne of the book’s aims is to recover a sense of the women’s lived experience, and the author makes strong use of vivid sensory details ... While Puhak works carefully with the few contemporary sources available, she necessarily speculates to allow readers a possible glimpse into the emotional lives of the two queens. This means frequent use of the conditional tense ... For some sticklers, this imaginative technique may grate ... Overall, however, The Dark Queens succeeds in illuminating both the lives and the political significance of Brunhild and Fredegund, despite the many efforts to suppress their deeds. Fans of historical narrative...will find enjoyment here, as well as a new perspective on the forces that shaped this tumultuous era.
PositiveUSA TodayCombining familiar elements of the picaresque, a road trip, a getaway car and the hero’s journey, Amor Towles’ absorbing new novel, The Lincoln Highway, is a melange that manages to feel new ... This compressed time frame, as well as the multiple points of view of several characters, given in alternating chapters, create a propulsive narrative and a beguiling story about how the past shapes the future ... The novel’s standout character, however, is charming ne’er-do-well Duchess, whose rough upbringing at the hands of a fraudulent father, an actor and a grifter, has gifted him with street knowledge and a self-made code of honor. His chapters, told in first person, are a marvel of singular voice, a mix of high-flown ironical declamations and truths-told-slant that cause readers to deeply care for this wayward, often dangerous, young man ... Two flaws mar this mostly successful novel. The first is the narrative’s occasional veer toward twee, a tonal choice likely intended to counterbalance darker strains in the story. Still, a reader may find the cuteness meter occasionally ticking too high. The other is a more problematic sub-plot that leans heavily on the \'Magical Negro\' trope, a term coined by director Spike Lee to describe a Black character whose function is primarily to help white protagonists out of trouble ... doesn’t shy from sadder realities and that is welcome, as much as we love these young heroes. Sometimes the past turns out to be less inspiration and more fateful reckoning.
RaveUSA Today[A] dreamy and dazzling first novel ... when memory and personhood are unhooked from each other, how do we know what we understand about reality and our past? ... As the story deepens, the timelines – past and present – grow closer, and Westgate skillfully tightens the tension so that readers turn pages quickly, needing to know what will happen next ... its setting is fully realized – Westgate conjures a vivid Los Angeles full of aspiring dreamers and those who would take advantage of them ... [A] compelling story about what a person will do to relieve pain – and what is lost in that release.
PositiveUSA Today... gripping ... Gilpin revisits her terror and trauma so she can shine a light on the extraordinary and dehumanizing practices of the therapeutic boarding school industry. Gripping and detailed, Stolen will linger long for readers as both a survival story and powerful testament ... At times a reader wishes for more clarity in the later chapters of Elizabeth’s life, especially in terms of how she came to terms with her family, whom she thanks in the book’s acknowledgments. Yet \"Stolen\" succeeds with its graphic portrayal of Carlbrook’s methods, raising important questions about consent, age and agency.
PositiveUSA TodayAll hail the suspense novel that sticks the landing! ... Lippman delights in rendering a bookish snob whose allusions include references from John D. MacDonald to Congreve to Fitzgerald, and the richness of these many book and movie titles adds a welcome layer of complexity to Gerry, whose love for teaching these stories shines through ... At times, Dream Girl suffers from its back-and-forth chronological structure, where some chapters set in Gerry’s past seemingly have little to do with his present. But as violence intrudes and secrets are revealed, the novel picks up pace as it approaches its last enjoyable pages. Lippman’s sharp and timely thriller is a fast read, one that will surely please her many longtime devotees as well as attract new and enthusiastic fans.
PositiveUSA Today... a readable, engaging biography ... Page’s chapter on the controversial bailout legislation, entitled \'Meltdown,\' is particularly well-rendered, with day-to-day reports on the government’s scramble in fall 2008 ... Most readers, however, will perhaps turn more eagerly to the biography’s final section, where Pelosi’s epic battles with Trump take center stage after the speaker’s first private assessment of him to House Democrats ... Even those weary of recent events will find insights on the Trump era worth revisiting, especially as Pelosi navigates countering the president with a wave of upcoming progressive liberal representatives who challenge her leadership ... Thorough as Madam Speaker is, a reader may wish for more insight into what Pelosi – notably private – called her distaste for “\'personal, personal things.\' Page was not always able to draw Pelosi out, and some prickly exchanges between author and subject are interesting in their own right – especially when an \'openly agitated\' speaker pushes back on questions about \'the Squad\' ... Still, Madam Speaker provides a valuable overview of a singular American politician.
PositiveUSA TodayLibertie’s greatest success is the perceptive, poetic voice of its central character. Through Libertie’s eyes, we learn not just about her community’s inhabitants, but about the forces of nature — plants, the ocean, weather patterns — that shape lives, often continuing to make meaning after great loss ... Greenidge’s choice of narrator allows readers to closely witness both the historic work of Dr. Sampson as well as the inner life of her daughter. Although Dr. Sampson’s letters to Libertie continue both stories, the novel’s overall dramatic tension drops once its setting shifts to Haiti. In this section, some readers may miss the beautifully drawn cast of characters from Kings County ... Overall, however, Libertie shines as a deeply moving portrait of two very different women and the fraught but loving intertwining of their lives.
PositiveUSA Today\"... the personhood of a \'victim\' can get lost amid endless details of sleuthing, records and police procedural. Becky Cooper’s gripping literary nonfiction debut...admirably avoids this mistake and never lets us forget the lived experience of Jane Britton ... a compelling portrait of a woman’s life cut short—as well as a fascinating exposé of a prestigious enclave within the country’s most elite institution ... When breakthroughs arrive late in the process, Cooper movingly evokes the emotional impact on all those affected, herself included. Less effective is the writer’s choice to compare her own romantic relationship to Jane Britton’s, which reads as appended instead of meaningful. Britton’s own words are more stirring ... an engrossing, monumental work.
RaveUSA Today\"In a time of global pandemic, racial justice uprising, and widespread economic hardship, Rumaan Alam’s third novel may be the best thing you can read about one of the worst things you can imagine. A perfectly-engineered thrill ride that is also a novel of ideas, Leave the World Behind combines deft prose, a pitiless view of consumer culture and a few truly shocking moments ... It is a tribute to Alam’s skill that the existential horror of such questions doesn’t just intensify his characters’ white-knuckle situation, but truly deepens the novel as a whole, making profoundly resonant truths that are both difficult and clear-eyed. Leave the World Behind is an exceptional read that will stay with you long after you’ve sped through its final pages.\
David Heska Wanbli Weiden
PositiveUSA TodayOne of a crime novel’s great pleasures can be its setting: When conventional story elements (loner protagonist, a puzzling crime, the occasional red herring) are developed within a vivid and convincingly rendered community, even the most avid detective novel fans are rewarded with fresh insight into the durable charms of the whodunit ... Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden delivers such an experience, using familiar aspects of genre to say something new about America’s violence, past and present ... One of the strongest aspects of Winter Counts is how Virgil, who is clear-eyed about the U.S.’s systemic oppression of Native people, struggles with whether and how to incorporate traditional culture into his life and work ... Readers will root for the strong, good-hearted Virgil and his fight to protect his family, and his community. When he restarts a relationship with his ex Marie, the novel brings forward a deepened emotional complexity – and a strong character whose dream of med school is complicated by the politics of tribal education ... One wishes for more of Marie’s story apart from her perhaps inevitable sidekick role in the investigation plot. And while some readers may correctly suspect who the true bad guy is long before the reveal, there is plenty to enjoy in the journey to the novel’s satisfying conclusion ... a compelling read and an insightful perspective on identity and power in America.
PositiveUSA Today... a fizzy new novel that upends celebrity culture with an insider’s look at the care and feeding of big stars ... Lane nimbly sketches the ridiculous \'Holly-weird\' life of the uber-pampered ... Some of the novel’s sharpest scenes come when Charlie meets for drinks with an unofficial club for personal assistants, where smart ambitious young people trade stories of humiliation and pass along tips for how to procure whatever their crazy bosses might require at a moment’s notice ... At times, however, it’s hard to understand Charlie’s devotion to a person so utterly self-absorbed. And there are stretches of this novel where its revved-up tone—lots of ALL CAPS and exclamation points—can grow tiresome. However, there is real sweetness in Charlie’s quest to connect, and readers will root for him to find happiness ... anything but boring, and could be the fun summer read so many of us are craving.
PositiveUSA Today... deeply compelling ... Bennett brilliantly creates a network of characters – singular and vivid – whose stories alternate in time and take readers from Louisiana to LA ... There are moments in The Vanishing Half that stun with quiet power ... A potential pitfall in a novel with far-flung characters whose lives and decisions affect each other is the perceived need for scenes where startling coincidence brings two people together and reveals their connection. One major example of this pushes the plausibility limit in The Vanishing Half, even as it furthers the dramatic action of the novel ... Yet overall, The Vanishing Half more than succeeds as a beautifully imagined story about an American family. Whether or not Mallard or a place like it actually ever existed – the novel’s end puts this into question – the lives of Desiree, Stella, and their kin will stay with readers for a long time.
PositiveUSA TodayUsing first-person point of view, our protagonist tells her own story directly, and a good part of the book’s success lies in Daphne’s voice: observant, self-aware and very funny ... Weiner is whip-smart about the ways women internalize a constant barrage of body-shaming judgments – call it the thin gaze – and Daphne’s realistic fight to love herself as she is layers the frothy plot with welcome emotional complexity ... Readers may be surprised by what happens halfway through Big Summer: a hard turn from one genre into another. Some will roll with this new direction and others may wish Weiner had stayed in the lighter world of influencers and frenemies. Still, the risk mostly pays off as the pace picks up and the vividly rendered secondary characters – one of the novel’s strongest aspects – take on new significance ... Sexy and satisfying, Big Summer will delight Jennifer Weiner’s many fans and could be just the absorbing take-me-away read so many of us need right now.
PositiveUSA Today... compelling ... successfully evokes what happens in this society strained by inequality, especially for the women, who are allowed little to no voice in matters of life and death ... Nesbit so persuasively creates her two main female characters, their voices and their fraught partial alliance that the sections focused on one man can seem extraneous ... Despite the novel’s intended tight focus on the immigrant colonists, readers may wish for more understanding of the men and women of the Wampanoag Nation, and how their stories might have broadened the narrative. However, in a thoroughly considered author’s note, Nesbit clearly describes which sources she worked from and how she used the historical record to inspire her fictional account ... it can be fun and illuminating to recognize certain well-known figures from history, and to observe how a skilled novelist such as Nesbit in Beheld disrupts expectation to render the pulsing messy lives of those too often calcified in myth
PositiveUSA TodayNarratively, Elon runs the risk of diminished interest in Blum\'s sections, as reading about a writer at work is less dramatic than the powerful action of Sonia’s scenes. There is also the fact that Blu learns a major fact of his origin at the beginning of the book that isn’t revealed to readers until the end – a withholding that seems overly determined. However, House on Endless Waters is a deeply immersive achievement that brings to life stories that must never be forgotten.
PositiveUSA TodayPoole succeeds in persuasively conveying the daily texture of city life, and in creating appealing characters we want to see happy ... [the] cheerful premise demands bite to balance its not-always-believable sweetness ... At times, overly broad characterization and clichéd gestures detract from the story ... And yet, several reversals and a neat twist mean that The Authenticity Project grows stronger toward its end: a rarity for novels ... an enjoyable read that is cozy – or as its British characters would have it, cosy – in the best sense of the word.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveUSA TodayThe short, spare Pursuit succeeds on the level of its ambition: creepy, violent and occasionally affecting ... Although this frame story drags somewhat, Pursuit intensifies in its second half ... Pursuit has a plot that is duly horrifying, but except for Nicola, the characters in the novel – like its title, perhaps – are unmemorable, indifferent. The stilted courtship of Abby and Willem provokes a shock when the reader realizes, through the mentions of iPhones and MRI machines, that the novel isn’t taking place in the 1950s. Suspenseful and disturbing, Pursuit will appeal to Oates’ mystery fans, less so to the admirers of her literary work.
PositiveUSA Today... harshly beautiful ... what begins as a gripping survival tale deepens into a psychological inquiry into intimacy, conflict and what it means to be alone together in the world ... Crummey’s vivid depictions of nature are attuned to the rhythms of seasonal harvest and evoke the characters’ profound isolation in remote Newfoundland ... The last scenes of The Innocents manage to both shock and satisfy, and will leave readers thinking about the story of Evered and Ava for a long time.
RaveUSA Today... deeply moving ... Patchett nimbly side-steps expectations with a literary strategy that moves the narrative’s chronology backward and forward, so that we see adult Danny and Maeve coping with their lessened circumstances and their terrible betrayal as well as the unfolding of life in the Dutch House. Maeve’s outrage in the wake of their expulsion is especially thrilling ... As in Patchett’s previous work, secondary characters are given full and rich stories, leading to a wide view of the many lives intersecting around the Dutch House. This tapestry of human relationships – shredded, loving, aching, renewed – is the novel’s second finest achievement, pulling us close to care about the outcomes of so many lives. The Dutch House’s main accomplishment is its portrayal of Danny and Maeve’s relationship, a brother-sister love that is imperfect, oak-strong and impeccably rendered by a master of contemporary fiction at the peak of her career ... While few people will ever set foot into a property as grand as the imaginary Dutch House, many of us know well the complicated bonds of siblinghood. The story of devotion between the two characters at the heart of this fairy tale will delight Ann Patchett’s many fans, and will no doubt bring her even more admirers.
PositiveUSA TodayA strong feature of Whisper Network is the unnamed narrator at the beginning of each chapter ... Functioning as a kind of #MeToo era Greek chorus, these sections are vivid and compelling, offering an insider’s perspective on the true cost of female ambition in the workplace ... Far more interesting than the takedown of a caricatured bad boss is the way women at Truviv use skills honed on the job in order to form alliances, create opportunities and protect each other. Read this novel for a spirited take on the rage that simmers just below the surface of today’s woman in the corner office, the cubicle or the break room.
PositiveUSA Today...slight but charming ... Gentle comedy and these characters’ innately kind natures enriches what might have been starkly sad moments ... The charming-verging-on-wacky Andrew might remind readers of Bridget Jones, as he gets himself in and out of romantic scrapes. There are few surprises in the unwinding of the story’s outcome ... an overall enjoyable read.
RaveUSA Today\"... astonishing ... a reading experience to simultaneously dazzle and horrify ... Women Talking is essential, elemental.\
PositiveUSA Today\"America for Beginners is a compelling story deepened by characters who grapple with identity and nationality in situations that are sometimes funny, and often painful ... the heart of this novel is Pival’s wrenching self-realization about how she and her culture treated her gay son. We empathize with her sorrow at discovering too late how she might have acted differently. Readers may chafe during the first several chapters, while the plot gets set in motion a bit too slowly ... Still, Franqui\'s novel resonates as a strong contemporary story about cross-cultural alliances, the bonds of family and what it means to \'learn America.\' \
PositiveUSA Today\"Only Child earns its worth by avoiding gratuitous scenes of horror in favor of a careful examination of the way one boy and his parents, and their community, struggle to survive — and stay together — after the worst has happened ... One of Navin’s strongest techniques is to evoke Zach’s experience with vivid sensory details ... Delivering the whole of this fraught situation through the perceptions of a young child is a difficult task, and at times the necessary simplifying of Zach’s understanding doesn’t serve the story ... Only Child doesn’t attempt to reckon with the political or racial aspects of mass shootings, and its sole focus on a wealthy family is a drawback. But paying attention to one child’s well-rendered inner experience of such an event is valuable, and all too sadly important for our world today.\
PositiveUSA TodayNot all of the book’s material works: Several shorter digressions, labeled 'quirks,' come off more as disconnected filler than meaningful pieces of a larger project. And at times some repetition across the essays creates frustration rather than the recursive meditation that may have been intended.
Such minor detractions hardly mar the overall power of this richly varied, thought-provoking book. Where the Past Begins will surely gratify Tan’s many fans, and likely win her numerous new ones.
RaveThe RumpusManhattan Beach widens into a fascinating portrait of this legendary war-time shipyard, where thousands of workers strained to build and launch the destroyers that could beat back the German U-boats. For the first time, women joined the industrial effort, working side by side with men in jobs they had never been allowed to hold. They stand in long lines to give blood, they buy boxed lunches at the canteen for forty cents, and they labor behind gloves and face shields … Egan thoroughly details the mob subculture, with its bone-deep ‘Wops’ versus ‘Micks’ hatreds, and although this is familiar material from movies, she makes it sting when it counts. The more Anna wants to know about her father, the more she has to be willing to get close to ugly sources of (male) power.
MixedThe RumpusWhile Goon Squad makes memorable use of striking formal experimentation, the more traditional storytelling in Manhattan Beach is no less compelling an investigation into fate and freedom … A few scenes—particularly one off-the-books dive—strain credibility, and threaten to pull us out of the fictive dream. In the last third of the novel, Anna’s home life obligations ease up with a suddenness that feels mainly convenient. But the aching final decisions she makes ring true to her character in that era. Everyone, no matter how strong or independent, is subject to forces like war, or time, or the claims of family.
PositiveUSA TodayThis narrative structure, reminiscent of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, allows the author to explore both sides of the timeline: researchers tracking clues to learn about a vanished people as well as the adventures of those living in the earlier epoch ... The Last Neanderthal is most compelling in the chapters where Girl strives to find enough food for her and Runt to stay alive as they search for others, all the while fending off attacks by bear or cougar...But Rosamund’s main conflict, whether the museum funding her dig will override her scientific bias for a glitzy big show, is less interesting because the stakes seem much lower in comparison.
PositiveUSA TodayFans of the best-selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will find much to admire in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, as both books closely illuminate stories of women’s struggles and solidarity in minority-ethnic and rural Chinese cultures. At times the author’s research strains Tea Girl, weighing the story down with a fair amount of minutely detailed tea production methods. But in rendering the complex pain and joy of the mother-daughter bond, Lisa See makes this novel — dedicated to her own mother, author Carolyn See, who died last year — a deeply emotional and satisfying read.
Christina Baker Kline
PositiveUSA TodayPerhaps the novel's most dramatic plot has to do with a Harvard student who romances Christina on his summer vacations. Limited by poverty and her disability, Christina's world occurs mostly in her mind, and stubborn New England pride leads her to refuse a wheelchair or other aids, meaning that she literally crawls from place to place ... Avoiding sentimental uplift, A Piece of the World offers unsparing insight into the real woman behind the painting.
PositiveUSA TodayDespite her phenomenal success with multiple children’s books, as well as songs, poems and essays, Margaret Wise Brown never stopped trying — and failing — to write for adults. This painful disappointment needs more exploration, as we don’t learn much about these works or their problems. Gary also shortchanges the lifelong effects of Brown’s troubled connection to her family, especially problematic since it was the discovery of a trove of works kept by Brown’s sister that prompted this biography. Though her life was cut short by illness (she died in 1952 at age 42), Margaret Wise Brown’s story reads as a stirring evocation of a woman who insisted on freedom in her art and in her love life.
PositiveUSA Todayt’s impossible not to root for Shelby Richmond, the broken, good-hearted young woman at the center of Alice Hoffman’s poignant new novel ... Hoffman exercises characteristic strengths — a wide cast of quirky, believable characters, sly humor, and a clear love for the American teenager ... A few plot points push the novel toward a cloying winsomeness — too many animal rescues, too much Chinese food delivery — but the high stakes of Shelby’s recovery cut through with redeeming sharpness.
PositiveUSA Today...not your parents’ immigration novel ... Chang’s lively portrayal of this sibling trio — spoiled, funny and loyal — is one of the novel’s most appealing aspects. If the middle section of the book drags a bit, this sharply comic novel is still more than worth it. When the Wangs take on the world, we all benefit.