RaveShelf Awareness[A] psychological novel that\'s a serious exploration of themes that include female identity and the meaning of art ... It\'s an unsparing, at times devastating portrait of one middle-aged woman\'s profoundly damaged self-image and her failed dreams ... Cusk meticulously charts the rising tension between L and M, ratcheting up the suspense as the two come into a conflict ... Cusk is a patient, elegant writer, in some respects like her creation M ... Second Place is the admirable product of that determination ... In this meticulous and provocative psychological novel, a troubled woman\'s encounter with a powerful artist sparks a profound crisis.
PositiveBookPage... both fresh and consistently entertaining ... Though she mostly goes easy on her quirky creations, Heiny is unfailingly honest and never at a loss for a witty observation ... an amiable and observant novel with perfect pitch and plenty of grace notes along the way.
RaveBookPageThere is pain in every divorce story, but not every divorce story can be related by a narrator as capable as Gina Frangello. Blow Your House Down, Frangello’s raw, eloquent account of the demise of her marriage, is an exemplar of self-reflection, tinged with optimism about the power to recover one’s life from the depth of suffering ... Amid this account of Job-like affliction, Frangello never shirks responsibility for the breakup. Still, casting her ordeal in the form of a trial, she makes a passionate case from an ardently feminist perspective for the rightness of her decision to abandon her husband for \'the man who rewired my heart\' and pleads that her effort to rebuild her children’s trust be \'judged by the courts of distance and hindsight\'.
MixedBookreporter... an enigmatic novel that demonstrates [Ozick\'s] prose skills are undiminished, even as they’re deployed in the service of a story that doesn’t feel fully worthy of her considerable talent ... a perplexing novel. There’s certainly nothing about it that will cause any reader to resent the brief investment of time it will take to read it, and some may well find themselves drawn to its vague sense of mystery. But when considering Cynthia Ozick’s diverse, impressive body of work, there are other places where that time might be better spent.
RaveShelf Awareness... in this collection, featuring 19 pieces of edgy memoir, eclectic journalism and diverse criticism, Kushner consistently delivers on the promise of that exciting opener ... Kushner bravely dives into controversial territory ... Not every one of Kushner\'s pieces will enchant every reader, but The Hard Crowd consistently showcases the work of a conscientious, engaged journalist. Her talent for writing fiction is already well-recognized, but this introduction to her nonfiction showcases the breadth of her talent.
PositiveBookPage... this lively story of class conflict in contemporary London offers more evidence of Mozley’s talent and versatility, marking her as a writer whose work promises both thoughtful entertainment and surprises ... Mozley subtly wires these characters and others, including a semiretired mob enforcer, a modestly successful actor and an ex-drug addict whose disappearance heightens police pressure on the district, into a complex network of unpredictable and intriguing connections ... Whether the scene is a déclassé Mayfair men’s club or a fetid cellar that affords refuge for a collection of homeless people, Mozley brings her diverse settings to life, as well as the clashing desires and ambitions of her colorful characters. Hot Stew’s title is an apt one, as Mozley consistently stirs in tasty ingredients and exciting spices, and keeps raising the temperature all the way to its startling climax.
Jo Ann Beard
PositiveShelf Awareness... a set of diverse pieces that sometimes challenge the boundary between fiction and nonfiction but that are consistent in the intensity of their perception and their vivid prose ... On whichever side of the fact/fiction line she acknowledges for her is sometimes \'permeable,\' Jo Ann Beard\'s stories fall, they undeniably resonate with the feeling of truth.
PositiveBookPageKaiser is a sober, responsible narrator, concerned with the moral implications of his quest and the persistent challenges of separating fact from fiction. Though it only illuminates a small portion of the enormity that was the Nazi genocide, Plunder is an account that’s undeniably worthy of its subject.
Jed S. Rakoff
PositiveShelf Awareness... well-informed and provocative ... [Rakoff] remains \'cautiously optimistic that my fellow Americans will rise to the challenge\' of repairing the system. If they do, it may be in part because of some of the inspiration and wisdom he provides here.
PositiveBookPageIn Buddhism it’s referred to as \'monkey mind\'—that cascade of often critical and judgmental self-talk that runs in a ceaseless loop in our heads. In Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Ethan Kross provides a useful introduction to some of the intriguing research on this phenomenon and offers a toolbox full of constructive techniques for quieting our persistent inner voice or, better yet, turning it in a positive direction ... \'The challenge isn’t to avoid negative states altogether,\' he concludes. \'It’s to not let them consume you.\' Anyone seeking help along that road will find Chatter a useful traveling companion.
RaveBookreporter... skillfully pairs a ruthlessly unsentimental portrait of online culture with a poignant story of a family coping with the life and death of a young child. It’s a daring juxtaposition of content and themes, but Lockwood executes the pirouette with a grace that allows these pieces to fit together in a coherent whole ... There’s a timeless quality to the flow of the narrator’s intensely self-aware observations that will feel familiar to anyone who spends any amount of time on social media...The predominant feeling of it all is similar to the one you get when you spend an hour scrolling your Twitter or Facebook feed, except this one is curated by a smart, literate companion ... But for all the rueful truth and wit Lockwood brings to her depiction of online culture, No One is Talking About This achieves real emotional resonance in its second half ... [Lockwood\'s] real achievement is to create an opportunity to reflect on the stark contrast between the synthetic connection offered by social media and the way real connection works on the most intimate level. In the end, we are the ones who get to choose.
Robert D Kaplan
RaveBookreporter... the fascinating account of Gersony’s work. Both informative and inspirational, it’s a testimonial to how much good one smart, empathetic, dedicated person can accomplish in the world ... Kaplan’s book, which sometimes reads like an adventure story, is thick with detail, and though the glossary of some 50 acronyms he provides is helpful, he recognizes that even the most patient reader may at times succumb to a feeling of bewilderment...Yet out of this welter of foreign places and people, a compelling story of Gersony’s dedication and effectiveness emerges ... a frank reminder of the challenges and benefits of being part of the global community. Perhaps it also will serve as a useful guide, and something of a prod, to future generations of Bob Gersonys who will have the responsibility of carrying on his vital work.
RaveShelf Awareness... informative and thought-provoking ... Land follows the path charted by its predecessors, gracefully blending history, science and an assortment of other disciplines to paint a multifaceted portrait ... Winchester...never misses an opportunity to illuminate his diverse subjects with a vivid anecdote ... One couldn\'t ask for a more accessible or comprehensive treatment of the subject than Simon Winchester\'s book.
PositiveShelf AwarenessLet Me Tell You What I Mean features 12 of those previously uncollected pieces that together foreshadow Didion\'s distinctive style and the considerable range of her interests ... Despite its brevity, Let Me Tell You What I Mean hints at some of the subjects that would preoccupy Didion, including life in her native California and the craft of writing itself ... This slim collection of mostly early pieces from Joan Didion provides a window into the work of her long, much-admired career.
PositiveShelf AwarenessAccessible and highly informative, the book is a fast-paced exploration of the science of skill acquisition and a delightful account of journalist Vanderbilt\'s personal adventures among fellow new learners ... The message of Vanderbilt\'s book is relentlessly positive ... Despite the inevitable setbacks, his is an empowering story that will have adventuresome readers eager to head off in search of some new challenge the moment they\'ve put it down.
Peter Ho Davies
PositiveShelf AwarenessWith insight and often acerbic wit, the balance of this brief novel, narrated from the father\'s point of view, follows the family through the early years of the son\'s childhood ... The father\'s attempt to seek expiation for his part in the abortion decision leads him to volunteer as an escort at an abortion clinic, a decision that produces some of the novel\'s most poignant and darkly funny moments ... a bittersweet story, a tender and touching novel that\'s unafraid to wear its heart, and its humor, on its sleeve.
Andrew J Scott
PositiveBookpageIn The New Long Life: A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World , London Business School economist Andrew J. Scott and his colleague, psychologist Lynda Gratton, offer a lively, thought-provoking survey of a world in which life and work will be fundamentally altered by increasing longevity and rapidly changing technology ... In concrete terms, Gratton and Scott explain how the careers of the future won’t simply involve ascending a corporate ladder with experience and seniority, or perhaps shifting to a different company within an established industry. Instead, workers will likely find themselves alternating periods of employment with time out of the workforce, with some of that hiatus used to acquire skills that will enable them to cope with evolving technologies ... With the world confronting an economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s refreshing to encounter two original thinkers who can envision a brighter future, albeit one with its own daunting problems.
PositiveShelf Awareness... readers in the mood for an eccentric adventure story will be captivated by this fast-moving account ... Confessing to a near obsession with Wilson\'s story, and aided by the discovery of a cache of documents in the possession of his subject\'s septuagenarian great-nephew, Caesar is a deeply sympathetic biographer. He\'s ferreted out provocative tidbits about Wilson\'s personal life and reflects on the toll Wilson\'s brief service in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Great War took on the second half of that life. Whether viewed as an inspiring tribute to one brave man\'s indomitable spirit, or a chronicle of sheer madness, what Caesar calls the \'whole sorry, beautiful, melancholy, crazy tale\' is one of truth that often seems far stranger than fiction.
RaveBookreporterIt takes a writer with his gifts to capture the zeitgeist with the insight, wit and grace he displays in this enchanting work ... The Sun Collective burrows deeply into the lives of five unexceptional but intriguing characters ... Baxter’s portrait of the retail capitalism that provokes terrifying fever dreams like Ludlow’s and Harry’s own free-floating angst is sharply rendered. He succeeds admirably, moving unobtrusively from scenes of benign domesticity to glimpses of dystopian violence in both suburbs and city, infusing all of it with a spectral quality that brings to mind some of the short stories of Steven Millhauser. For all the outward signs of normality, things are never quite what they seem ... But for all the ways it obliquely faces societal flash points, like economic inequality and generational tensions, The Sun Collective is also a deeply personal novel.
RaveShelf AwarenessIn Thompson\'s capable hands, Pappyland blossoms into a moving exploration of his own family history and of his search for life\'s meaning as he\'s about to become a father for the first time ... Thompson is a sympathetic chronicler of the Van Winkle family saga, and of Julian\'s dogged quest to resurrect Pappy\'s brand ... Thompson reflects eloquently on balancing his flourishing writing career with the impending demands of fatherhood ... as invigorating at the smell of freshly cut Kentucky bluegrass, and goes down as smoothly as a glass of Pappy\'s beloved bourbon.
Thomas E. Ricks
RaveBookreporterFresh from the 2020 presidential election, there probably isn’t a better book to read than Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas E. Ricks’ First Principles. Well informed, gracefully written and brimming with contemporary relevance, regardless of whether your candidate won or lost, it’s a bracing antidote to the presentism that’s one of the worst afflictions of our public life ... Ricks is well attuned to the differences in the role that classical sources played in shaping the thinking of each of his subjects ... a rich lode of material for any engaged citizen seeking hope and some encouragement.
RaveShelf AwarenessIf George Packer and John McPhee collaborated on a collection that examined contemporary American life, while simultaneously exhibiting an intense feeling for the country\'s vast landscape, it might look something like Tom Zoellner\'s stimulating The National Road ... The National Road\'s subjects are diverse and unfailingly interesting. No matter how well readers think they may know the United States, it\'s guaranteed there will be something here to surprise, delight or unsettle them.
RaveBookPageThis gentle but never cloying fable offers us a chance to weigh our regret over missed opportunities against our gratitude for the life we have ... Haig, who’s been frank about his own experiences with depression, is a sympathetic guide for Nora’s journey. His allusions to multiverses, string theory and Erwin Schrödinger never detract from the emotional heart of this alluring novel. And when Nora’s sojourn allows her to realize that perhaps \'even the most seemingly perfectly intense or worthwhile lives ultimately felt the same,\' and that \'life simply gave you a whole new perspective by waiting around long enough to see it,\' Haig brings her story to a conclusion that’s both enlightening and deeply satisfying.
RaveShelf Awareness... dark and complex ... Even as he delivers a tightly controlled, propulsive story of shifting loyalties and outright betrayal, one that at times features graphically described violence, Klay digs deeply into the minds and motivations of these characters. He reveals how, though their paths to engagement in a world of never-ending conflict may have differed, they all find themselves unable to escape its pull. Readers looking for moral clarity in the experience of characters enmeshed in what Lisette thinks of as the \'systems applying violence across the globe\' won\'t find it here, as Klay scrupulously avoids assigning praise or blame to anyone residing in this ethically ambiguous universe ... In its mood and subject matter, Missionaries bears a kinship to novels from the \'70s and \'80s like Robert Stone\'s A Flag for Sunrise and Joan Didion\'s A Book of Common Prayer. Phil Klay impressively updates the themes of those classic novels for our time, where \'clean wars with clear boundaries\' no longer exist.
PositiveBookPage... intricately plotted ... Clegg discloses those consequences, and Dana’s flawed perception, at a measured pace, slipping smoothly from the life of one character to another and from present to past, revealing how entire lives have been marked indelibly by teenage impulses and mistakes. Though Lupita believes at one point that she is \'safe from the truth,\' The End of the Day explains with painful clarity why, in some lives, that can never be.
RaveBookreporterAnyone seeking a revealing portrait of the life of Muslim Americans in the two decades after 9/11 can find it in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies. But its searing depiction of contemporary America is equally essential reading in this time of profound crisis for the country ... Akhtar excels in crafting a collection of striking set pieces that illuminate the novel’s themes of alienation and persistent unease ... What it means to be home and what it means to adapt to a new, often hostile, culture are but two of the big ideas Ayad Akhtar explores with sensitivity and depth in Homeland Elegies. It isn’t a difficult novel, but it’s a complex and challenging one. Its unblinking assessments of American life in a time of unprecedented change for both natives and immigrants feel especially urgent.
PositiveBookPageMeacham makes a persuasive case for his claim that \'John Robert Lewis embodied the traits of a saint in the classical Christian sense of the term.\' At a moment when events have once again forced Americans to confront the evils of racism, His Truth Is Marching On will inspire both courage and hope.
RaveBookPage... this exquisite portrait of female friendship, aging and loss packs more insight into its barely 200 pages than many serious novels twice that length ... at various moments is touching, profound and even wryly humorous ... Nunez confronts the reality of death without succumbing to despair. Whether she’s summarizing the improbable plot of a serial killer potboiler or recounting a conversation between the narrator and a \'once beautiful woman\' at the gym, she’s an economical, graceful storyteller. She also touches lightly but provocatively on subjects like climate change, the #MeToo movement and the malign influence of Fox News on one elderly woman’s psyche, then eases her story along almost before we realize it.
RaveShelf Awareness...in an imposing work of narrative nonfiction that blends memoir with ecological exposé and socioeconomic analysis, she painstakingly, and often painfully, lays bare the tragedy that has stalked the town\'s hardworking and plucky, but ultimately exploited, citizens ... Arsenault\'s account is enlivened by vivid prose, often coolly analytical and yet deeply lyrical. Mexico\'s melancholy story—one that\'s mirrored today in thousands of struggling small towns across the U.S.—comes to life in Arsenault\'s sympathetic, but unfailingly clear-eyed, telling.
A B Yehoshua, trans. by Stuart Schoffman
RaveShelf AwarenessThe machinations that lead to the design of a \'modest, homey tunnel,\' and bring Zvi and Asael to the project\'s end, are less interesting than is Yehoshua\'s wry portrait of a proud, accomplished man who\'s been given a glimpse of his destiny, but who nonetheless is determined to live out his remaining days in dignity and with purpose. His depiction of the Lurias\' marriage of nearly 50 years is affectionate but unsentimental, and laced with humor--like the scene where Zvi almost ends up onstage during a performance of the opera Romeo and Juliet--grounded in the bemused tenderness that\'s a feature of any long-lasting relationship ... In a country that\'s riven by conflict, Yehoshua\'s depiction of the interactions between the Israeli civil servants and the Palestinian family at least hints at the possibility of reconciliation, if not full-fledged peace ... In Yehoshua\'s capable hands, what could have been a depressing account of decline instead becomes one that chooses optimism over despair.
RaveBookreporterAs vibrant and warm as the time whose title it bears, the novel doesn’t sacrifice either Smith’s intellectuality or her playfulness. And though it can be fully appreciated by newcomers to the Smithian calendar who start the annual cycle here, those who have followed her through the year will delight in the subtle linkage of themes and characters from the other novels ... as today’s headlines, an opportunity for Smith to share her cool, frequently caustic take on current events ... as today’s headlines, an opportunity for Smith to share her cool, frequently caustic take on current events ... Though summer is referred to only glancingly, as was the case with the seasons in the other novels, when Smith evokes it she does so beautifully ... full of both portent and mirth, angst and joy, at least of a tempered variety. Richly allusive, it will send some readers back for another visit to the volumes that preceded it and will prompt others to do the same to catch up on all the delights they’ve missed.
PositiveShelf Awareness... a taut, acerbic family drama ... Though it\'s too artful a work of fiction to be considered purely a polemic on the subject, The Wild Laughter does serve as a provocative brief in favor of euthanasia ... With frequent flashes of humor, \'the thing austerity couldn\'t touch,\' Hughes skillfully captures the flickering tension between brothers separated by two years ... Hughes is both an incisive observer of contemporary life and someone who\'s able to penetrate its surface to explore more enduring themes. The Wild Laughter is a compact but potent novel that explores its themes of love, loyalty and sibling rivalry with keen insight.
PositiveShelf AwarenessDemonstrating her widely recognized skill at creating memorable stories out of the stuff of daily life, McCorkle\'s empathy for a quartet of unassuming but appealing characters provides the foundation for a novel whose drama is modest, but whose insight is deep ... Jill McCorkle is an unfussy writer whose storytelling skill almost gives the impression she\'s simply eavesdropping on her character\'s lives. It\'s that quiet talent that makes Hieroglyphics a novel whose appeal will only enlarge in the reader\'s mind with the passage of time.
PositiveBookPageAnyone looking for a compact, highly readable history of the American political movement known as populism, and the determined efforts from both right and left to squelch it, will enjoy prominent progressive journalist Thomas Frank’s The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism ... Credit goes to Frank for this admirable effort to reclaim the noblest parts of the populist legacy and make them relevant for contemporary Americans, but there’s good reason to doubt we’ll see this platform realized soon, no matter who prevails in November 2020.
RaveBookreporter... another example of the high-quality work a talented artist is capable of producing during this difficult time ... In this collection of wise, often biting, snapshots of life in the time of COVID-19, we can be grateful that Smith has allowed us to eavesdrop on her reflections ... For an author like Smith, allusions to writers that include Nabokov, Kierkegaard and Sontag flow easily. Yet there are occasional lighter moments ... There’s a sense in the pages of Intimations that these brief \'hints\' --- as the volume’s title implies --- represent only an initial attempt to grapple with some of the most profoundly troubling issues the United States has faced in decades. If that’s so, then we eagerly can look forward to the time she revisits them.
RaveShelf AwarenessWith its evocative blend of nature and travel writing, philosophy and history, journalist Ben Ehrenreich\'s Desert Notebooks merits favorable comparison with works like Annie Dillard\'s For the Time Being and broad swaths of recent writing by Rebecca Solnit. All of these elements are skillfully melded in a work that\'s intellectually challenging, thoughtful and consistently surprising ... [Ehrenreich] draws on a broad range of sources, deeply immersing himself in hauntingly beautiful Native American creation stories and pondering the esoteric work of thinkers like 16th-century philosopher Jacob Boehme. It\'s a fascinating journey in the company of Ehrenreich and a diverse group of eminent writers that include Jorge Luis Borges and Walter Benjamin, and others lesser known but equally compelling, whose work he handles with a comfortable facility. One comes away from Desert Notebooks not only with a deeper appreciation for some of America\'s wildest and most rugged spaces, but with a better sense of how we got to where we are and at least a glimmer of what an alternative path into the future might look like.
RaveShelf AwarenessIf Hunter Thompson and Joan Didion had produced a literary offspring, a young man whose older brother was Bill Bryson, his writing might sound something like Kent Russell\'s. That\'s the spirit that infuses In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida, Russell\'s entertaining, often deeply reflective portrait of his uneasy relationship with his native state ... Energetic and insightful ... Russell skillfully juxtaposes these sometimes bizarre, frequently hilarious, encounters (some of them recounted in the form of shooting scripts for the projected documentary) with glimpses of the history of the \'swamp of self-creation that, for better or worse, leads the nation the way a jutting thermometer leads the infirm\' and visions of its perilous future.
PositiveBookPageBlending professional rigor with journalistic flair, Dayen, executive editor of the American Prospect, takes readers on a comprehensive tour of the American economy, revealing \'the collections of monopolies encircling our every move\' ... Dayen grounds his portrait in vivid illustrations of how a handful of companies have the power to profoundly affect people’s daily lives ... Dayen concludes with a glimmer of hope that some of the early successes of what’s been called the \'New Brandeis\' movement (named for the late Supreme Court justice, an avowed foe of monopolies in the early 20th century) will energize a consumer backlash against these concentrations of wealth and power.
RaveShelf Awareness... a blistering appraisal ... as Gessen meticulously documents, Trump\'s most determined, and most frightening, campaign has been his war on the notion of objective truth, and upon the institutions that unearth and report it ... the manifest flaws in Trump\'s character and the danger his continued governance poses have been laid bare thanks to Gessen and other fearless journalists. Surviving Autocracy isn\'t merely important reading for anyone who plans to cast a vote in that election, it\'s essential ...
RaveBookPageReaders who enjoyed Behold the Dreamers will be pleased that Mbue persisted to tell this powerful story of the fateful clash between an American oil company and the tiny African village forced to live with the consequences of its environmental destruction ... Mbue devotes considerable attention to issues like patriarchy and the beauty and role of myth and magic in the lives of Kosawa’s villagers, deepening and contextualizing the novel’s tragic elements. How Beautiful We Were proceeds at a deliberate pace that’s appropriate for the moral gravity of the story and the fateful choices—wise and unwise, but always undeniably human—made by Mbue’s characters. To those disinclined to question the role that economic exploitation plays in supporting our modern lifestyle, reading this novel may prove an unsettling experience.
RaveBookreporterAmong the personality traits long associated with the Irish is a gift for the art of conversation. Who better to take advantage of that gift than veteran novelist Roddy Doyle, as he does to full effect in his appealing novel, Love? ... [Doyle] follows two middle-aged men as they traverse the subjects of romance, fidelity, longing, regret and the tug of memory in a torrent of insightful, wistful, frequently bawdy and consistently entertaining talk ... [a] conversational feast ... For two decidedly average characters, Davy and Joe can be bitingly funny ... Doyle eventually wraps all of this conversation into an emotionally affecting climax in the hospice where Davy’s father is spending his final hours, leaving Davy and Joe on a sympathetic, if less than fully resolved, note. It’s both a privilege and a pleasure to pass the hours that flow by quickly in this novel, eavesdropping on the banter of these everymen, and grateful to Roddy Doyle for his skill at making us recognize the universality of their stories in the particularity of their ordinary lives.
RaveBookreporter... moving and pleasurable ... the book skillfully links characters trying to regain their balance in a world where their lives, like ours, have been radically disrupted ... Any novel that begins with an apocalyptic prophecy summons the feel of Chekhov’s first act gun, but Beha is up to the challenge ... The ambitions, passions and neuroses of these characters become the ingredients for a hearty stew of concealment, betrayal, manipulation and longing that Beha patiently brings to a boil. The machinations of this cleverly plotted novel are too numerous to summarize in a way that’s even remotely useful, but they’re united by a timeless theme ... Beha also seamlessly connects his characters to headline-grabbing events of recent years. Whether it’s the scandal-tarnished celebrity seeking redemption after a precipitous fall from grace, the inside trader or the plagiarist, there’s a certain roman-à-clef quality to the story that adds unobtrusive spice. In its breadth and ambition, Beha’s novel sits comfortably aside contemporary portraits of New York City ... But for all its immediacy, there’s also a timeless feel that evokes Dickens or Dostoevsky ... a sumptuous novel that calls insistently to the reader to return to it in those moments when it’s put aside, fueled by the elemental desire simply to find out what’s going to happen next. Beyond his mastery of the storyteller’s craft, Beha seriously engages with a range of moral quandaries that make the book much more than a page-turner with literary pretensions: What does it mean to be a good person? How do we measure the enduring worth of a life? Can good emerge from a great wrong? These questions and others tug at us while we’re reading and linger in the mind long after we’re done.
RaveBookreporterFord has always been a reliable source of elegant, thoughtful fiction. Sorry for Your Trouble, his new short story collection, only extends that level of literary quality into the middle of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s eighth decade. Every one of the nine stories here reveals the steady hand of a master of the form, practicing his craft with confidence and grace ... Ford excels at piercing the dark heart of loss. There is nothing maudlin or sentimental about his perspective; rather it is a clear-eyed assessment of how we encounter these empty spaces in our lives and, willingly or not, move on ... The two longest stories feel as if they share that same beautiful DNA of longing ... Ford is at his best when he allows carefully paced stories like these room to breathe, like the fine wine one of his characters might consume. For that reason, a couple of the entries, like \'Crossing,\' or \'Free Day\' aren’t as fully satisfying ... Ford’s writing is distinguished by the economy of its expression, and the seemingly effortless ease with which keen insights slip into his narratives ... One closes the book on a typical Ford story feeling just a bit wiser, more reflective, understanding that for all the pleasure of reading him in the moment, one’s true enjoyment will linger over time.
PositiveShelf AwarenessLesser concludes the volume with a useful appendix, in which she shares her favorite Scandinavian mysteries, along with helpful commentary. Whether readers are transfixed by the spectacular exploits of Lisbeth Salander, or impressed with the doggedness of Kurt Wallander, or even if they\'ve never encountered these characters, they\'ll find in Scandinavian Noir an entertaining journey into the world of these mysteries and the cultural milieu that spawned them
RaveBookPage... fierce, unsparing ... In Danler’s evocation of California’s complicated history and the darkness that lurks under its sunny exterior, Stray brings to mind the work of Joan Didion, and her frank portrayal of the nightmare of addiction is akin to Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering. But in its painful candor and hard-earned wisdom, Stray is every bit its own vivid creation.
RaveBookPage...both a brilliant re-creation of the lives of William Shakespeare and his family in late 16th-century Stratford-upon-Avon and an emotionally intense account of the death of the dramatist’s young son and its painful aftermath ... flawless executed ... An award-winning writer who has published seven previous novels, O’Farrell excels at evoking the essence of the Shakespeares’ daily lives in Stratford ... Graceful and moving, Hamnet is a triumph of literary and historical fiction.
PositiveBookPageTheir nightly explorations are complicated by the involvement of the camp’s young gardener, Luke, a would-be mentor whose interactions with the girls, both sexual and otherwise, heighten the tension that skillfully builds over the course of the story ... Temple liberally seasons her story with informative bits of Buddhist philosophy, Greek mythology and descriptions of how, throughout history, humans have attempted to satisfy the yearning to defy gravity. For both its mystery and its psychological insight, The Lightness will appeal to readers who enjoyed works like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History ... admirable.
PositiveBookreporter... a sophisticated story about the meaning of life and love in a life fortunate enough to last into its ninth decade ... tender but unsentimental ... In the economical style that’s characteristic of his prose, Begley effectively portrays Hugo’s dilemma as he weighs the choice between radiation therapy and allowing the disease to proceed unimpeded ... Begley’s resolution of Hugo’s rekindled affair after he returns to New York on the eve of the \'conceited, malevolent asshole\' Donald Trump’s election is abrupt, but true to the novel’s frank, if often wistful, tone ... While it may have less appeal to readers whose twilight years still stretch out over the horizon, anyone in or about to enter life’s final decades will find in it both amusement and truth.
PositiveShelf AwarenessThe 32 pieces in this volume balance criticism (more appropriately, appreciation—save for a mild poke at Walt Whitman) of some of Ryan\'s favorite poets and other literary essays with a few helpings of memoir ... In a useful introduction, the poet Christian Wiman praises Ryan\'s \'amiable porcupine pose,\' a characteristic that\'s one of the most enjoyable features of the collection. For anyone who\'s ever attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference, Ryan\'s gimlet-eyed account of the 2005 event in Vancouver will be a revelation ... An eminent American poet turns to prose to illuminate her craft and her life.
Rebecca Dinerstein Knight
PanBookreporterThough Knight again displays some of the talent that made her debut novel, the exotic and wistful The Sunlit Night, so appealing, this effort doesn’t deliver on its promise to either unsettle or entertain ... Nell’s ruminations on life and love spill onto the page in edgy profusion. Veering between acute self-awareness and emotional obtuseness, the fact that their objects often aren’t sufficiently consequential to evoke sustained interest mostly renders them more clever than profound ... like so much of the novel, these threads, though intriguing, never become part of the weave of an emotionally satisfying tapestry. While Hex has its tantalizing moments, in the end there aren’t enough of them to bring the reader under its spell.
PositiveBookPage[Larson] is a master of popular history ... Larson also humanizes the prime minister through stories of his teenage daughter, Mary, struggling to make the awkward transition into adulthood in the midst of war’s chaos, and his son Randolph, whose marriage was crumbling under the weight of a gambling addiction ... Enlivened by Larson’s effective use of primary sources and, above all, by his vibrant storytelling, The Splendid and the Vile brings a fresh eye to a familiar story of courage, determination and hope.
Edward J. Larson
PositiveBookreporter... an impressive joint survey ... Larson, who already has produced two books about Washington and another on the Constitutional Convention, is unabashedly sympathetic toward his subjects, though it appears he has a special affection for Franklin, the Renaissance man whose accomplishments in science, literature and philanthropy he touches on only briefly ... While fully reckoning with their shortcomings, Larson is intent on leaving the reader with portraits that reveal both Franklin and Washington as extraordinary leaders.
RaveShelf AwarenessOn the list of passions that are as American as apple pie, the game of baseball occupies a prominent place. That\'s what makes its presence at the heart of Gish Jen\'s clever dystopian novel The Resisters so meaningful, and so disquieting ... Jen revels in creating a fully realized world that\'s sufficiently recognizable yet infused with enough alien elements to qualify as frighteningly realistic speculation on a potential future. There, ubiquitous surveillance approaches its apotheosis and climate change doesn\'t lag far behind. Blending realistic family drama with sly social commentary turbocharged by its author\'s eerie vision of the future, The Resisters raises a host of provocative questions about what a ruthless combination of omnipresent technology and economic inequality might look like. George Orwell would be proud. And scared.
PositiveBookPage...a thoughtful reflection on gender, relationships and racial and ethnic identity in 21st-century America, as seen through the observant eyes of a young Chinese American woman ... Days of Distraction is less noteworthy for its action or plot twists than it is for Alexandra’s precise, fresh insights into life in a country where people who look like her have ultimately thrived. But as the novel reveals, that eventual acceptance sometimes has a steep price.
RaveShelf Awareness... the passionate and often deeply moving story of Murphy\'s personal transformation. It is a well-informed, thoughtful exploration of the causes and potential solutions for the United States\' epidemic of gun violence—one that claims around 90 lives every day—even as it addresses that vexing problem in a broader context ... Whether one is already engaged in that fight or seeking information and inspiration to do so, The Violence Inside Us is essential reading.
RaveBookreporterJenny Offill’s writing evokes the image of a lone figure on an isolated beach, combing the sand in the hunt for something --- anything --- worth picking up. But unlike that solitary character’s typical yield of broken shells and worthless sea glass, it’s easy to picture Offill’s search yielding items of true value. It’s from the thoughtful accumulation of those precious fragments of keen observation that her apocalypse-tinged third novel, Weather, is painstakingly assembled ... Rolling from one fragment to the next, Weather is a pastiche of seemingly random observations, obscure factoids, bad jokes (featuring a turtle who gets mugged and a woman who thinks she’s a moth), and frequent glimpses of insight that flash like heat lightning. Out of the improbable ingredients that compose this bubbling stew, Offill simultaneously and unobtrusively creates both a world that’s a meaningful simulacrum of our own and something that looks like a conventional plot.
PositiveBookPage...a pensive tale of war’s savage toll on innocents during and after the conflict ... a melancholy reminder that valor isn’t limited to those who win medals on the battlefield, and that to many noncombatants, the question isn’t who wins or loses, but whether one will survive the madness.
RaveBookPageThough Adiga’s sympathies clearly lie with Danny, he’s careful not to telegraph the result of this dramatic confrontation. As Danny roams the streets of Sydney and wrestles with his conscience, we see glimpses of the anxiety of life in an \'archipelago of illegals, each isolated from the other and kept weak, and fearful, by this isolation.\' Add to that troubling reality the weight of an ethical crisis of life-changing dimensions, and the result is a work of deeply consequential fiction.
MixedBookreporterShlaes does a capable job excavating the archaeological record of LBJ’s Great Society program, including the anti-poverty community action initiatives of the Office of Economic Opportunity (under the leadership of Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver), the expansion of public housing, and the growth of legal services to advocate on behalf of the poor. She takes a decidedly jaded view of these activities, portraying them mostly as the malign efforts of arrogant federal bureaucrats to triumph over the beneficent forces of the free market. Shlaes also spends considerable energy unsympathetically tracing the decline of the American labor movement during this period through the story of Walter Reuther, the powerful head of the United Auto Workers ... it’s no surprise that Shlaes renders a decidedly negative verdict on the reformist impulses of the Great Society ... for all its scholarly trappings, one’s reaction to this book is likely to turn on the political orientation the reader brings to it.
RaveShelf Awareness... dazzling ... a renewed opportunity for more readers to discover the insight and humanity of [Doyle\'s] work ... bursts with vivid descriptions ... Doyle\'s brand of theology will appeal to fans of the work of writers like Anne Lamott ... Spirituality aside, readers fortunate enough to discover the many pleasures of Brian Doyle\'s work here will be grateful, too, for that encounter.
PositiveBookPageTo anyone who believes Supreme Court justices speak only in pronouncements handed down like chiseled tablets from Mount Sinai, Jeffrey Rosen’s Conversations With RBG will come as a revelation. Drawn from eight public and private interviews conducted over the past decade, these candid and often deeply personal conversations provide insight into the life of a woman who has gracefully navigated the roles of passionate advocate, discerning judge and loving wife and mother ... [Rosen\'s] questions in this book are well-informed but friendly, designed to draw out the naturally diffident Ginsburg rather than to provoke controversy ... Ginsburg, ever the optimist, believes we’re \'constantly forming a more perfect Union, which is what the Founders intended.\' Conversations With RBG is an enlightening look at her vital contribution to that process.
RaveBookreporter\"On several levels, novelist Will Self’s memoir, Will, is anything but an easy read ... But if you are looking for a painfully honest exploration of the nightmare of addiction, one that’s offered with a large helping of ironic humor, then you’ll find that Self, if often an unappealing companion, is rarely an uninteresting one ... Writing in the third person, Self is a keen, remarkably unsparing observer of his disastrous early adulthood ... For all his self-absorption and the litany of his self-destructive escapades, Self grows on the reader in odd ways ...
There’s even a certain poignancy ... His manic style evokes both Hunter S. Thompson and Anthony Burgess ... This is a disturbing trip through a benighted world that most people will be fortunate never to experience, something for which they should be profoundly grateful.\
PositiveShelf Awareness... explores some of life\'s darker corners in eight well-crafted tales written over the past 20 years. The stories here are sturdily constructed ... Peck nudges that quality of strangeness to the foreground, even though all of the stories are contemporary and feel firmly grounded in reality ... disquieting.
PositiveBookPageEach of Rachman’s stories focuses on a different staffer, and from one to the next he deftly hits all the notes on the emotional scale ... Perhaps the unnamed paper is deserving of the destiny that looms over it in these stories. But by the time its fate has become clear, it’s hard not to greet it with a touch of sympathy engendered by Rachman’s vivid tales.
RaveShelf AwarenessJudging from the content of Jenny Slate\'s Little Weirds, the inside of her mind is a fascinating, if unusual, place. In this collage of essays, stories, dreams (both night and day), and pieces that defy easy categorization, the actor and comedian invites readers to pay an extended visit, one that will leave them enlightened, moved and sometimes pleasantly puzzled ... Slate flashes her comedic gift often ... a refreshing, original journey.
PositiveBookPageIn surveying Britain’s social history over more than a century through the interconnected lives of 12 characters, all of them black women (save for two exceptions), Bernardine Evaristo has set an ambitious agenda for herself. Both in substance and style, her vibrant novel Girl, Woman, Other achieves that goal with a striking gallery of the lives and loves, triumphs and heartbreaks of these dozen memorable human beings and the world they inhabit ... Evaristo never stumbles in her ability to portray these figures with empathy, honesty and, at times, sharp humor. In every case, she skillfully reveals their struggles to define what it means to live meaningfully as spouses, lovers, friends and simply good people ... One of the principal pleasures of Girl, Woman, Other is Evaristo’s energetic, at times playful style. Hers is a unique sort of prose that nods in the direction of poetry in both format and occasionally in content. She dispenses with the use of some conventions of punctuation without ever sacrificing readability. This exciting, often unsettling novel succeeds by respecting both the dignity of its subjects and the intelligence of its readers.
PositiveShelf Awareness...an at times captivating, at times bewildering inquiry into contemporary scientific thinking on the subject of human consciousness ... As he travels the circuitous path toward a better understanding of the human mind, Parks is a good-natured, self-effacing guide ... Parks\'s book becomes most challenging when it asks readers to join him in the deep end of neuroscience pool, as in a 35-page chapter describing in detail an experiment involving Gad67EGFP mice and GABAergic neurons. He\'s clearly steeped himself in the relevant scientific literature, and has spent a good bit of time grappling with this elusive subject matter, but for those who aren\'t technically inclined, portions of the book like that one may prove less appealing. Out of My Headdoes more to stimulate speculation about its central question than it does to provide any definitive answers. Parks is a thoughtful layman fully committed to his task, and anyone with a similar bent will find much grist for further reflection in this provocative book.
RaveThe Star TribuneDear Life, her 13th collection, only serves to burnish her reputation for creating intelligent, sophisticated stories out of inarguably humble materials ... As in much of Munro\'s work, a strong current of darkness courses under the placid surface of these stories, several of them set during World War II or its immediate aftermath ... Munro displays her customary economy of language in portraying these events, but she reserves her keenest prose for painting her characters in brisk, distinctive strokes ... As precisely drawn as these sketches may be, Munro coyly contrasts them with the artifice of her fiction ... It\'s with gratitude, then, that we can acknowledge with this one that her considerable gifts remain undiminished.
PositiveBook PageIn a novel that conjures the Russian literary tradition, duBois weaves an intricate web of relationships among characters forced to confront difficult existential choices ... Though at times she overreaches for an arresting metaphor, duBois does an admirable job of portraying the death rattle of Communism and the birth of a nominally democratic but persistently corrupt society. She vividly captures the spirit of St. Petersburg and Moscow, not least the cloud of paranoia that hovers over both the old and new Russian worlds ... A deeply thoughtful novel, a pensive, multilayered look at a culture in transition and the lives of the two complex, memorable characters at its core.
RaveBook PageRussian-born Anya Ulinich offers a sometimes comic, consistently heartfelt story about a young woman laying the foundation for life in a new land as she takes the first tentative steps toward adulthood ... Like much of Russian literature, Petropolis is stuffed with a cast of colorful characters who swirl around Sasha as she works her way painfully toward both self-knowledge and a better life. This novel, as do most good ones, leaves readers feeling they\'ve accompanied the protagonist on a rewarding journey, while still wondering what lies ahead for her.
MixedBookreporterWho Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is the sort of novel that goes down easily, but somehow adds up to something less than the sum of its parts ... Clarke has displayed a fondness for quirky characters, and Calvin’s Aunt Beatrice might be among his quirkiest. The problem with her portrait is that Clarke too often substitutes tics and shtick for real insight into her character. Calvin, the novel’s narrator, is the sort of protagonist who’s easy to like but hard to love, as he’s more acted upon than actor. By the novel’s end, it’s hard to say we have much more of an answer to the question posed by its title than we did when it started.
PositiveBookPage... an evocative journey across a shape-shifting personal and political landscape. As Levy peels back each new layer of this at-times enigmatic story, there are new pleasures disclosed at every turn ... Levy expertly navigates the complicated geometry of these relationships, all of them shadowed by the menace of the Stasi in the regime’s dying days ... In scenes that slip effortlessly into Saul’s dreams, hallucinations or episodes of pure memory, Levy excavates bits of his painful emotional life and casts a fresh light on some of the novel’s earlier events. Despite the occasional elusiveness of this technique, Levy’s storytelling is grounded in direct prose and vivid images ... both intensely personal and fully cognizant of how the events of a rapidly changing world can alter lives in unexpected ways. Levy’s ability to keep these elements in balance with subtlety and assurance is a testament to her considerable artistic skill.
RaveShelf AwarenessLeslie Jamison confirms the praise heaped on 2014\'s The Empathy Exams for her uncanny ability to blend perceptive reportage with intensely personal essays in consistently fresh, dynamic prose ... Though pieces of Jamison\'s personal life are threaded throughout her reporting, the collection concludes with some of the confessional writing that made her memoir The Recovering so revealing ... The book\'s concluding piece, \'The Quickening,\' movingly traces the arc of Jamison\'s pregnancy and the birth of her first child, juxtaposed against her own past struggle with an eating disorder. In these and all the other essays in this book, Jamison consistently demonstrates her \'willingness to look at other lives with grace, even when your own feels like shit.\' All of her readers are the beneficiaries of that rare gift.
PositiveShelf Awareness... a tender story about what it means to be a good person and a good parent in trying times ... circles around a coterie of gentle, likable characters who seem to find the task of navigating their tangled personal lives as difficult as confronting the challenges of an increasingly complicated world. As they make their amiable, if sometimes stumbling, way, more than a few readers will see in their story reflections of their own lives.
RaveBookreporterSet in Afghanistan in mid-2009, it’s a troubling story of the moral ambiguity at the heart of the war and a painful depiction of the limits of idealism when it confronts the realities of a distant country’s culture, history and politics ... Waldman subtly reveals how our long engagement in Afghanistan hasn’t equipped us with wisdom that’s equal to our power ... In addition to the complex ethical questions it raises, what makes A Door in the Earth so rewarding is the care Waldman takes to make sure that the lives of the novel’s Afghani characters—especially those of the women and their roles in this deeply patriarchal society—are portrayed with the same honesty and empathy as Parveen’s ... Through Parveen, Amy Waldman offers a sadly realistic assessment of our predicament ... a bitter message, but one that’s more than justified, it seems, by the story that’s told in this devastating novel.
PositiveBookPageIt isn’t until roughly the novel’s midpoint that Beryl and Shimi meet and Jacobson’s talents as an astute student of human nature and his mastery of witty, acid-dipped dialogue shine brightest ... Live a Little’s message—that life isn’t truly over until it ends—is a refreshingly optimistic one for readers of any age.
PositiveShelf Awareness... a vivid portrait of what happens to a thoughtful teenager who\'s forced to face hard questions of right and wrong, and to decide when familial love and loyalty may demand too much ... Zentner skillfully sidesteps one of the principal risks in novels of this sort, that of turning his characters into mere ideological mouthpieces ... the novel hurtles along, its pace quickened by Zentner\'s innovative technique of carving up lengthy scenes into chapters of only two or three pages. It\'s easy to identify Copperhead\'s villains, but they\'re far less interesting than its flawed heroes.
RaveBookreporterThough Maggie Brown barely exceeds 300 pages, its 44 stories—some of them as brief as a page or two—and a concluding novella so teem with ingenuity, wit and variety that there were times when I felt like a tourist on a bus racing through a country full of impressive sites where I might instead prefer to linger. Grouped into five sections, the stories move from the California coast to Chicago in the 1980s to New York’s Hudson Valley to Fall River, Massachusetts, with lots of detours on the way, exploring life in all its tragic and comic dimensions ... Orner’s compassion flourishes ... Orner’s talent for creating memorable characters reaches its apex in \'Walt Kaplan Is Broke,\' the novella-in-stories that composes the final third of Maggie Brown ... Peter Orner’s fiction overflows with small moments of illumination, little jolts of hard-earned wisdom and humor that detonate on nearly every page ... he’s done nothing short of conjuring the dross of everyday life into pure gold.
PositiveBookPage... a passionate, deeply informed critique of how our healthcare system fails in its treatment of the elderly ... a vitally important book ... shares some of its DNA with Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. But unlike the well-known surgeon, Aronson brings to bear some three decades of geriatric practice, a branch of medicine that didn’t even emerge as a specialty in the U.S. until 1978 ... Aronson, who holds a master’s degree in creative writing, is as comfortable drawing on resources outside the field of medicine, quoting poet Donald Hall or novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, as she is parsing a scientific study. Though the subject of this provocative book is the elderly, its message touches the entire span of human life.
RaveBookreporter[Ackerman] reveals his skills as a journalist and memoirist ... Though the book’s episodic pieces are dated by year and season, they’re presented without chronology. That fact, coupled with the complexity of the political and military landscape in which Ackerman dwells, presents challenges for readers not steeped in these subjects ... Though the journalism in pieces like that one is observant and informative, the sections of Places and Names more accurately characterized as memoir are its most engrossing. Ackerman’s recollections of his experience in Fallujah, the subject of the book’s final two entries, provide its most gripping moments ... The vivid descriptions of how he and his comrades fought for survival on unimaginably perilous terrain are as close as one can come on the page to the reality of combat ... the seemingly endless conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan already have spawned an impressive body of literature. To that collection of excellence, add Elliot Ackerman’s unforgettable Places and Names.
RaveBookPage... a blistering exposé ... a sympathetic but clear-eyed narrative ... Whitehead pulls no punches in telling this heartbreaking story. The Nickel Boys offers optimists an opportunity to be encouraged by how far the United States has come in the past 60 years in addressing racial inequality, but a careful reading of this disquieting novel leaves one with the feeling that we still have much further to go.
RaveBook Reporter... nothing short of wondrous ... the stories in Orange World pulsate with a beating heart that, for all of Russell’s literary virtuosity, is never subordinated to her technical skill. Add in her fresh, vibrant prose, and the stories overflow with life, both individually and cumulatively ... At their best, Russell’s stories bring to mind Jim Shepard’s history-infused tales and the marriage of fantasy and reality in the work of George Saunders. But the talent she demonstrates once again in Orange World is decidedly her own.
RaveBook ReporterFor the combination of sheer inventiveness and a compassionate heart, it’s hard to imagine many novels challenging Shteyngart’s this year ... Amidst this maelstrom of desperation and decay, one that emits a sort of oddly appealing energy, Shteyngart has created an utterly realistic love story that evokes the doomed relationship between Winston Smith and Julia in Orwell’s 1984 ... Beyond his gifts for piercing social commentary and his verbal pyrotechnics, Shteyngart’s achievement ultimately rests on a determination not to lose sight of the odd romance at the novel’s core.
PositiveBookPage...a reminder of the breadth of his professional expertise and the depth of his personal passions ... Admirers of Sacks’ previous books, like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, will most enjoy the section titled \'Clinical Tales\' ... Sacks is equally appealing when he turns to more personal topics—including his love for gefilte fish and botanical gardens—which make up the book’s final section ... That aspiration and all the essays collected here are a fitting valedictory to Oliver Sacks’ fascinating life.
PositiveBookreporter\"When it comes to writers working today, none may be better than Stewart O\'Nan at portraying the intimate details of simple daily life. His new novel, Henry, Himself, is yet further evidence of that estimable talent ... Among the many pleasures of Henry, Himself is its portrait of Henry\'s union with his wife Emily, celebrating the \'mystery at the heart of any marriage, secrets even people close to it would never know,\' as they approach their 50th anniversary. O\'Nan perfectly captures its essence, from the division of labor, express and implied, that marks long-term marriages, to the tender jibes and private language shared by husband and wife ... In this gentle, graceful novel, Stewart O\'Nan shows just how far short of the truth such a reductive summing up can be.\
RaveBookPageKaren Russell\'s startlingly original collection...features graceful and seductive prose that transports the reader into surreal and yet utterly plausible realms ... In every story, Russell demonstrates a mastery of her craft, an achievement made even more compelling by the fact that she\'s only 24 years old.
PositiveShelf Awareness\"With the beauty of its prose and the quality of its insight, this gentle, reflective reminiscence reveals again Iyer\'s literary virtuosity ... Much of what makes Autumn Light
RaveShelf AwarenessWho knew literary criticism could be so much fun? ... Alison (Nine Island) offers a well-stocked \'museum of specimens,\' from the work of writers both widely known (Philip Roth, Raymond Carver and W.G. Sebald, one of her favorites) and less so (Marie Redonnet and Murray Bail). She meticulously but briskly unearths an impressive body of evidence to support her argument ... Alison\'s gift for close reading brings to mind fellow novelist and critic Francine Prose\'s Reading Like a Writer, and her enthusiasm for this literary archeology project is infectious ... Meander, Spiral, Explode is a joyous celebration of literature\'s robust shape-shifting qualities.
PositiveBookreporter\"Sing To It... is likely to feel as refreshing to fans of her distinctive stories as a desert oasis. Unfortunately, for all of Hempel’s skill as an accomplished literary miniaturist, with the exception of the compelling novella that makes up nearly half the book, there’s barely enough material here to whet the appetite of newcomers to her work. ... In short, there’s much to admire in Sing To It, but from a writer as good as Amy Hempel, one wishes there was more to love.\
PositiveBookreporter\"Intensely personal, wise, witty and sensuous, these glimpses of life through Gay’s perceptive eyes aren’t merely an introduction to his unique world. Collectively they’re an invitation to readers to awaken to the delights that surround us every day ... But for all its emphasis on life’s pleasures,The Book of Delights isn’t simply a lighthearted romp through Gay’s enjoyably observant life. Though politically themed essays don’t dominate, he chooses his targets with care, and hits them when he does.... an inspiring, life-affirming volume...\
RaveBookreporter...a work of impressive scope, depth and sensitivity ... Acknowledging that he’s \'not a legal scholar or a constitutional historian,\' Luxenberg...immerses himself deeply in the extensive documentary record [and] demonstrates both a mastery of those disciplines and a skill at evoking a vivid sense of America\'s bitter struggles over civil rights in the 19th century ... Reviewing cases from Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Luxenberg thoroughly describes how the practice of separation in public transportation agitated northern lawmakers and courts long before it became an issue in the post-Civil War South ... Anyone who wants to understand Plessy in its own time and in the decades that followed will find Steve Luxenberg’s Separate an ideal starting point.
RaveBookPageTime and again [Popova\'s] nimble mind and deep intellectual curiosity make those connections plausible and compelling ... In describing the often frustrating courses of their personal—and especially romantic—lives, Popova exposes the tension between mundane human existence and the unrelenting demands of great science and art ... Popova’s own mellifluous prose enhances her discussion of even the most arcane topics. She draws extensive quotations from primary sources, allowing her subjects to speak at length in their often eloquent, always fascinating voices. Figuring invites the reader to engage with complex ideas and challenging personalities, unearthing a wealth of material for further reflection along the way.
RaveBookPage\"... a valuable contribution to our understanding of the fractious debate over immigration and the attendant controversy over a wall along the United States’ southern border ... Relying on a rich trove of source materials, both primary and secondary, Grandin pointedly contends that this mythic \'Edenic utopia\' has now been eclipsed by the shadow of a concrete and steel border wall ... Regardless of whether one accepts Grandin’s Manichaean prophecy, with all the bitterness of the conflict it foretells, there is no escaping the need to come to terms with the painful legacy that’s meticulously revisited in this unsettling book.\
PositiveShelf Awareness\"With subject matter as varied as the terrors of homelessness and mental illness and the demands of parenting, the 14 eclectic stories in Instructions for a Funeral, Means\'s fifth collection and first since 2010, admirably [fulfills the goal of writing a book warranting a second read] ... Instructions for a Funeral is like the proverbial box of chocolates. Not every story will suit every reader\'s taste, but there are ample treats here guaranteed to surprise and delight anyone.\
PositiveBookreporter\"Ward\'s book is a capable account of the ultimately quixotic effort by the last of the Kennedy brothers to fulfill his family\'s destiny and achieve personal redemption ... For all of Ward\'s skill in bringing to life the events of the nomination contest, he\'s less effective in advancing his thesis that Kennedy\'s challenge \'broke\' the Democratic Party and, ultimately, accounted for Carter\'s defeat ... [in 2020,] Camelot\'s End will be a useful book to pull down from the shelf.\
PositiveShelf Awareness...an entertaining exploration of how intellectual dexterity manifests itself in both verbal and visual form ... In Wit\'s End, James Geary is undaunted by the risk anyone writing about the subject of being funny takes: spoiling the joke by explaining it. Refreshingly, he shows here that he\'s fully equal to the task, enhancing our appreciation of how true wit can both amuse and enlighten.
PositiveShelf AwarenessPlumbs the human dimensions of the economic and opioid addiction crises of rural West Virginia with the kind of attentiveness and sensitivity that invites favorable comparison with the work of writers like Chris Offutt and Tony Earley ... Though Maren takes her time finding the rhythm of her story, she moves swiftly once she does ... In prose that consistently evokes the stark contrast between the beauty of the West Virginia landscape and the desperation of her characters\' lives, Maren ponders the interplay between the hands dealt in life and the choices made when playing them. Sugar Run is a bleak novel, but one to be admired for its refusal to trade honesty for false hope.
RaveBookreporter\"... with a mastery equal to that of the most skilled portraitist, Hadley’s own artful literary brushstrokes bring to life a persuasive picture of longstanding marriages and friendships in profound crisis ... With patience and subtlety, Hadley probes at all the most tender spots in the lives of these characters and invites the reader to ponder the fissure caused by Zachary\'s death ... Hadley’s graceful prose perfectly complements the subdued mood of the story. Like fine wine, this is a novel to be sipped at, not gulped, but in doing so it\'s hard to resist the temptation to race ahead to find out what happens to these flawed but deeply sympathetic characters.\
Dror Burstein, Trans. by Gabriel Levin
PositiveShelf AwarenessThe realization of what Burstein...is up to doesn\'t dawn all at once ... As these details emerge, Burstein\'s ingenuity becomes ever more entertaining. The novel\'s depiction of the siege of Jerusalem, directed by a Babylonian general in a black Mercedes and featuring battering rams and helicopters, iron chariots and tanks, is yet another example of Burstein\'s deft technique. Muck is also a cautionary tale about the perpetual quality of Middle East conflict ... Though we might wish for a more generous treatment, Burstein\'s energetic novel, to its credit, remains true to the spirit of its source material until the bitter end.
RaveBookreporter...another, but no less satisfying, group of stories ... these 22 stories don\'t depart markedly, either thematically or stylistically, from those collected in the earlier volume. They also share with their predecessors a gaggle of characters, sketched swiftly but thoroughly and with wicked honesty, noteworthy for their failure to make much headway in their lives, while possessing sufficient self-awareness to alert them to the tragedy of their fate ... Berlin prefers character to plot, but on the handful of occasions when she concentrates simply on telling a good story, she displays the versatility of her talent ... Berlin also possesses a gift for humor that helps soften the aridity of her characters\' lives.
PositiveBookreporterFor all the appropriateness of the comparison to writers like [Raymond] Carver, whether it\'s her description of the captivating beauty of the Sandia Mountains...or some other striking setting, Berlin\'s evocative prose brings an energy to her stories that\'s often a welcome counterpoint to the foreground narrative ... Berlin also possesses a gift for humor that helps soften the aridity of her characters\' lives. That wit flashes ... bawdy shared recollections of disappointment and ennui are the essence of life in Berlin country.
Yuval Noah Harari
RaveBookPageIf there were such a thing as a required instruction manual for politicians and thought leaders, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century would deserve serious consideration ... For all the breadth of his concerns, Harari is able to distill the most pressing challenges facing our world down to three: nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption ... His concise essays on terrorism and immigration are examples of the fresh thinking he brings to any subject ... thoughtful readers will find 21 Lessons for the 21st Century to be a mind-expanding experience.
PositiveBookPageWith the skill of a novelist, Saslow tells the extraordinary story of how the \'rightful heir to America’s white nationalist movement\' came to repudiate his racist heritage. If anyone could lay claim to an impeccable pedigree in prejudice, it would be Derek Black, the son of the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard who founded Stormfront, a vicious internet hate site, and the godson of white supremacist David Duke ... Nothing in this thoughtful account suggests the conversion Black experienced is likely to become widespread among his former compatriots, but it’s reassuring to learn of one instance in which reason, hope and love prevailed over hate.
PositiveShelf Awareness\"Readers who enjoy tenderhearted stories seasoned with a dash of intrigue will find much to like in Virgil Wander ... The novel\'s depiction of how broken souls can begin to mend, as Rune uses his kites to help Virgil heal and to bring himself closer to Alec\'s teenage son, Bjorn, and as Virgil and Nadine, Alec\'s widow, tentatively discover their mutual affection, is both thoughtful and moving. Greenstone may be a town shadowed by bad luck, but those who discover this gentle novel will consider themselves most fortunate.\
PositiveBookPageEvans expertly pokes at the tender spots in relationships and examines how partners can behave in ways that, over time, make them strangers to each other ... Through all this, Evans is no purveyor of false optimism about the prospects of success for these troubled pairings. Instead, we’re left to ponder and admire the qualities that enable any long-term union to thrive.
RaveShelf AwarenessShteyngart...skillfully plumbs [protagonist] Barry\'s psyche. In everything from the size of an apartment to an estimate of another couple\'s net worth, Barry\'s lifelong insecurity drives him to an endless process of invidious comparison. And as [his wife] Seema tries to cope with Shiva\'s severe autism--what the family refers to euphemistically as \'the diagnosis\'—without Barry\'s involvement, Shteyngart offers a painfully realistic portrait of a marriage in crisis. As is the case with most road stories, much of the pleasure of Lake Success lies in the journey, not the destination. And yet Shteyngart brings the book to a close in a post-trip epilogue that\'s both moving and profoundly satisfying. For all the uneasy feeling of recognition it may provoke, this is a bighearted novel, whose generosity and essentially good nature might leave readers feeling just a little more optimistic about the future than they are when they pick it up.
PositiveShelf Awareness[The Reservoir Tapes] is a fresh reminder of [McGregor\'s] versatility and talent ... Though he abandons Reservoir 13\'s structure, featuring long paragraphs that shift seamlessly from the human to the natural world, he\'s not done so at the cost of his fascination with the quotidian aspects of village life – placid on the surface, but teeming with all the complexity of human existence beneath ... [a narrative] well worth following.
PositiveShelf AwarenessDespite its roots in family drama and the mystery that propels its final third, The Family Tabor is, at its heart, a philosophical novel. Wolas poses big questions: What does it mean to live a good life? How can we atone for a serious misdeed? And how do we seek forgiveness when others have been wronged profoundly by our conduct? For contemporary Americans like the highly educated, affluent Tabors, who think of themselves as \'good people,\' but who, at best, are only loosely rooted in any tradition, she suggests, the road to redemption can be elusive. \'The past is not dead. It\'s not even past,\' wrote William Faulkner. The Family Tabor provides compelling evidence of that truth.
PositiveBookPage\"Early Work isn’t interested in rendering moral judgment on Peter and Leslie’s affair, but it doesn’t shrink from portraying the bleak consequences of the mutual self-absorption that seems to be the driving force in their liaison. Even with that quality of reserve, there’s a lesson to be learned from this quiet novel: Sometimes we’re better off not getting what we want.\
RaveBookPage\"If The Death of Truth, her fiery takedown of the culture of lies personified by the presidency of Donald Trump is any indication, her voice soon may become as influential in the world of politics as it was in literary culture ... Unlike conventional political commentators, however, she digs deeper to seek out the \'roots of falsehood in the Trump era.\' It’s here that her immersion in literature provides a fresh perspective on our current dilemma.\
PositiveShelf Awareness\"...the novel showcases Hughes\'s talent as both a shrewd student of character and an astute observer of contemporary life ... Whether it\'s Gael\'s improbable, hilariously dismissive admission interview at London Business School, her caustic take on three young Master of the Universe types during an evening of partying or her frightening experience at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park in 2011, Hughes persuasively portrays some of the obstacles facing a modern young woman who decides to take on the world armed with little more than her wits and noble intentions ... [a] refreshingly honest novel.\
A. M. Homes
RaveShelf AwarenessThere is much to praise about A.M. Homes\'s varied story collection Days of Awe, her first since 2002\'s Things You Should Know. Wired into the zeitgeist, she\'s both a keen observer of some of the more absurd aspects of contemporary American life and someone who\'s not afraid to explore the boundaries where real life morphs into fantasy ... The best of Homes\'s stories take a familiar situation and give it a bizarre twist. That\'s true of A Prize for Every Player, where Tom, Jane and their two children embark on what appears to be a routine Saturday morning shopping trip at a Costco-type store. But this outing takes on an eerie aspect when one of the children discovers an abandoned baby atop the towel display; meanwhile, Tom\'s observations in front of a bank of televisions inspire his fellow shoppers to promote him as a presidential candidate. In barely 20 pages, it\'s a telling satire of our consumer culture and current political moment ... Unlike many story collections whose appeal lies in some unifying theme, Days of Awe\'s pleasure emerges from its embrace of the unexpected. Turn the page and you never know what you may find.
RaveBookpageIt would be surprising if the reading list of anyone who picks up novelist, critic and professor Francine Prose’s What to Read and Why doesn’t instantly grow exponentially ... Traversing more than a century and a half of literature, from the works of Dickens, Eliot and Balzac to the recent works of Jennifer Egan, Mohsin Hamid and Karl Ove Knausgaard, Prose’s book offers a generous serving of her wide-ranging literary enthusiasms ... What to Read and Why is a collection of love letters to the art of literature. The only impediment to devouring this book is the persistent urge to trade it for the work of one of the writers Prose so avidly praises.
PositiveBookPageGriswold’s penetrating story explores the consequences of our nation’s ill-advised zeal for exploiting abundant natural resources and features rapacious corporations, inept—if not complicit—regulators and hapless victims in a small Pennsylvania town. Hapless, that is, until they hire an unlikely husband-and-wife legal team to help them seek justice. Most of the action unfolds in and around the small town of Amity in southwestern Pennsylvania ... Beginning in 2010, Griswold made 37 trips to the region to report the story, and she focuses her careful investigation on nurse Stacey Haney and her two children...The Haneys’ worsening financial and health problems eventually drive them to lawyers John and Kendra Smith, partners in a small, local law firm ... Griswold’s sobering book is yet one more in a growing roster of works that detail the price some members of American society have been forced to pay to serve the convenience and comfort of their fellow citizens.
PositiveBookPage...even those who don’t share Greenblatt’s political perspective should find his well- informed survey of the making and unmaking of autocratic rulers to be instructive and entertaining ... Tyrant ranges across an ample array of Shakespeare’s dramatic works as Greenblatt explores Shakespeare’s fascination with the \'deeply unsettling question: how is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?\' ... Concluding this lively book on an optimistic note, he points to the \'political action of ordinary citizens\' as the antidote.
RaveShelf AwarenessRichard Russo\'s first collection of essays...is an insightful blend of excellent writing advice, revealing memoir and cogent literary criticism. One of Russo\'s recurring themes here is the writer\'s search for identity and a true voice ... Richard Russo\'s wise, hard-earned counsel to aspiring writers on other subjects that include humor, point of view and the demands of a writing career only enhances the value of The Destiny Thief. The fact that it\'s enriched by glimpses into the humane, generous heart of this talented author is an added treat.
RaveBookPageMcCauley seasons the novel with a liberal helping of the anxieties of contemporary American life, chief among them upper-middle-class parents’ apprehension about their children’s futures and aging baby boomers’ regret that life’s brass ring will always be just out of reach. He excels in some wickedly funny scenes that depict Julie’s fumbling efforts to turn her home into an economically productive Airbnb, as well as a tender portrayal of the odd sexual tension that bubbles up during Julie and David’s reunion. They’re the sort of people who know their lives possess all the ingredients for happiness, but who seem to have lost the recipe. For all the idiosyncrasies of McCauley’s creations, it’s likely many readers will see aspects of their own lives reflected in these pages.
RaveShelf AwarenessGiven its brevity, (((Semitism))) doesn't purport to be an exhaustive treatment of the rise of this odious movement. Weisman chooses, instead, to focus much of his attention on the frighteningly effective use of assorted online resources by people ... The rationale underlying Weisman's proposed response, if not necessarily the response itself, is likely to set off a lively debate within the American Jewish community. If it prompts a clear-eyed counter movement to these new agents of hate, he will have performed a valuable public service with this book.
RaveBookPageWhether it’s a terrifying firefight in the snowy mountains of Afghanistan or the fervor that swirls around the Biloxi convenience store as it’s transformed, with the spreading news of Cameron’s 'miracle,' into a place that’s like 'someone opened a Cracker Barrel at Lourdes,' the novel is a vivid portrait of our need to believe and its unintended consequences ... For all he does to make the book appear as a work of journalism, Miles doesn’t sacrifice his characters’ inner lives to the demands of his well-orchestrated plot. Anatomy of a Miracle is a thoughtful modern morality play that’s as current as the latest internet meme and as timeless as the foundations of faith.
PositiveShelf Awareness\"Offutt, who grew up in a small town in eastern Kentucky, has a native\'s instinct for the region and its inhabitants. His descriptions of the natural environment are vivid and yet understated ... Country Dark is a taut, well-constructed novel easily consumed in one sitting. There are villains aplenty, a deeply flawed protagonist but, in the end, only survivors.\
RaveShelf AwarenessSteavenson thoughtfully portrays Kit's growing distress over the threat of terrorism, exacerbated by the fear that both her ex-husband and son may be more involved in perpetrating similar crimes than she is willing to admit ... By the time the novel reaches its climax, events have moved Kit closer to a more sophisticated understanding of the dangers in an early-21st-century world, but Steavenson never suggests there will be any easy solutions to these conflicts. Fans of work by Graham Greene or John le Carré will find much to admire in the engrossing Paris Metro.
PositiveBookPageIn What Are We Doing Here?, her third collection of essays since 2012, she again discourses with depth and sensitivity on an impressive range of topics in theology, philosophy and contemporary American life … Robinson is at her most accessible and eloquent when, as a ‘self-professed liberal,’ she focuses her critical eye on prominent aspects of our current political climate … Readers who share Robinson’s strong political views will appreciate how forcefully she defends them in this challenging but worthwhile collection.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Trans. by Ingvild Burkey
RaveBookreporter.com...he has shown an engaging facility for this shorter form that makes its pieces, ranging over much of human experience, a consistent pleasure to read ... He seems similarly determined here to illuminate life, in all its absurdity and grace, to this soon-to-arrive child .... In the 60 pieces comprising Winter, Knausgaard again is an acute observer of the natural world and the dynamics of domesticity ... Along with Knausgaard\'s gift for word portraits like these, one of the great pleasures of his essays is his consistent ability to pivot from some quotidian observation to open onto a larger truth ...Knausgaard is a slightly bemused witness to his family\'s life.
Stefan Merrill Block
RaveBookPageA school shooting: four dead, six wounded. It’s the stuff of our society’s worst recurring nightmare. And it provides the backdrop for Oliver Loving, Stefan Merrill Block’s moving third novel, the story of one family’s struggle to cope with the devastating aftermath of such a tragedy ... Block peels away the layers of concealment, both personal and communal... But in contrast to the sensationalism of our ritualized news coverage, this is a ruminative novel whose accumulating emotional force depends on the acuteness of Block’s patient character development and the unassuming grace of his prose ... For all the intensity of our collective desire to move on from each of these human-inflicted disasters, Oliver Loving soberly reminds us that there are people left behind for whom the grief and pain will never disappear.
RaveShelf Awareness...[a] humane, revealing essay collection ... It's hardly necessary to share Proctor's life experience in order to appreciate her gift of observation and her talent for concision ... Proctor relates all these stories in crisp, coolly ironic prose that evokes something of the flavor of Joan Didion's writing. Landslide is poignant, tart and insightful. Its only flaw is that there isn't more of it, but perhaps Minna Zallman Proctor will rectify that shortcoming someday.
Ursula K. Le Guin
RaveBookreporter.comPossessing some of the same flinty spirit as Diana Athill\'s late-in-life writings, the 88-year-old Le Guin adopts a take-no-prisoners approach in brief essays traversing topics as diverse as literary criticism, contemporary politics and the antics of her cat ... Interspersed among the serious pieces are more lighthearted ones... Reading No Time to Spare feels like opening the window in a room full of stale air to usher in a fresh spring breeze.
PositiveBookPageMcKibben wisely leaves unresolved the ultimate question of whether Vermonters will vote at their annual town meetings to support turning their state into a fledgling republic, while effectively portraying even Vern’s mounting ambivalence as his movement rapidly gathers momentum. Radio Free Vermont is less a brief for secession than it is a gentle argument for the virtues of responsible civic engagement. In a time when many Americans feel alienated from the machinery of government, that’s a message worth taking seriously.
RaveBookreporter.comTo that ample body of work add Chang-rae Lee’s fourth novel, The Surrendered, a devastating saga of three intersecting lives scarred irretrievably by the horrors of war ...collision of these characters, each damaged in a different way by a wartime experience, sets up an ultimately disastrous confrontation ... Lee contrasts the placid beauty of the Italian countryside with June’s physical decay and almost superhuman determination to press on until she has found Nicholas and has made her way to the chapel at Solferino... The novel’s pace is measured, almost painstakingly deliberate at times. Its scenes of violence are set against ones of exquisite compassion tempered with keen insight into the damaged souls of June, Hector and Sylvie.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneRelying on a style differing markedly from genre fiction that treats similar subjects, Whitehead forgoes lengthy exposition that describes the source of the plague or the reasons for its seemingly instantaneous transmission ... Among recent novels in this vein, Whitehead's more resembles Cormac McCarthy's The Road than it does the social satire of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story or Tom Perrotta's elegiac description of the consequences of a Rapture-like event, The Leftovers ...he's able to bring to bear the fondness for the city –– its moods, its light and the swirling rhythms of its street life...Zone One is less a spectacular account of a clash between the living and the undead and more an intense meditation on the way we cope with disaster and the stubborn, often inexplicable, persistence of the human will to survive.
RaveBookPageDaniel is an artful storyteller whose skills are equal to the task of weaving Homer’s poem into his own life. Most impressive are his transitions from scholarly consideration of The Odyssey to intimate stories of his family life, as when the class discussion of Odysseus’ reunion with his wife, Penelope, at the end of his 10-year voyage home from Troy flows effortlessly into a magical moment, witnessing Jay as he offers a heartbreakingly beautiful tribute to his wife of more than six decades. Daniel writes, 'You never do know, really, where education will lead; who will be listening and, in certain cases, who will be doing the teaching.' That’s only one of the many wise lessons to be gleaned from this lovely book.
MixedBookreporter.com...Adam Gopnik’s At the Strangers’ Gate will serve as a refreshing corrective ...the 11 loosely connected essays that compose the book display the polymath Gopnik’s breadth of knowledge, graceful prose and a self-deprecating wit that makes it easy to identify with the young couple as they take the first tentative steps toward maturity in their adopted city ... If there’s any weakness in At the Strangers’ Gate, unfortunately, it’s the book’s longest piece, 'SoHo, 1983' ... Readers who aren’t familiar with the minutiae of debates that roiled the art world during this era may find their attention wandering...possesses a gift for making New York’s neighborhoods come alive... Gopnik doesn’t try to glamorize the first decade he and Martha spent in New York City, but it’s impossible to read this appealing book without appreciating it as the opening chapter of a love affair with a place.
RaveBookPageMessud masterfully portrays Julia’s mounting dismay at her friend’s choices and the events they set in motion, as the girls are carried far from a time 'when we could never have imagined coming unstuck.' For all the suspense Messud sustains after a desperate Cassie recklessly digs too deeply for the truth about her father’s death, the poignant depiction of the girls’ estrangement—fueled by their inevitable path toward adulthood—is an equally compelling reason to read this haunting novel.
Jonathan Safran Foer
MixedThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...for all its evident ambition, Here I Am is a disappointment from a writer of his talent ... In juxtaposing domestic drama with a world-altering geopolitical catastrophe, Foer has created a potent dramatic premise. But instead of using it to explore the eternal dilemmas of what Jacob calls the 'Ever-Dying People' in a television script he’s worked on in secret for years, Foer never shifts his attention for long from the Blochs’ only mildly interesting marital woes ... He skillfully captures the lacerating criticism and frequent dry wit of Jacob and Julia’s exchanges, but even the sharpest of these eventually lose their power.