PositiveThe Washington Post...all her talk of magic, kismet and other unseen forces is itself a kind of hocus-pocus. The Rickie Lee Jones presented in Last Chance Texaco — and she occasionally refers to herself in the third person throughout the book — did not take shape by chance but by the very real power of her personality and the strength of her artistry. In this raw and roving life story, Jones depicts a child who recognized her humanity and worth even when others wouldn’t ...
The family’s disorder is mirrored in Jones’s storytelling, which leaps across memories like a needle on a scratched LP. Her ragged sentences can hardly keep up ... Jones ran away from home throughout her adolescence, and her accounts of the dangers she faced on the road — mainly in the form of older, predatory men — can be difficult to read ... In a book about the past, Jones has no problem moving on. It’s a neat trick.
MixedThe Washington PostHell is hell, of course, but even Heaven doesn’t seem all that appealing in this collection of stories, each of which can be read in less than two distressing minutes ... In the hands of Stephen King or Karen Russell, such horrific ends might yield nasty, morbid thrills. But Brockmeier isn’t out to raise goose bumps, though easily spooked readers no doubt will shiver here and there. The Ghost Variations leaps over \'the neat picket fences of death\' to chase after the very idea of existence itself, \'this terrible gumminess of being,\' as one poor specter puts it ... Brockmeier wants his book to have at least the appearance of fun. The first page of every story is topped by a cute, cartoonish illustration that seems borrowed from Pac-Man. Light sneaks in through the cracks ... It would require a supernatural effort to fill a 100-story collection with nothing but winners, and Brockmeier is, after all, only human. He reaches his quota with more than one dud ... Even a medium would have difficulty reading more than a few of these stories in one sitting.
PositiveThe Washington PostAs shocking as all this can be, Engel is no literary Tarantino, delighting in graphic violence that points to itself and little else. A gifted storyteller whose writing shines even in the darkest corners, Engel understands that the threat of violence is a constant in people’s lives and that emotional acts of abuse can be as harmful as physical ones ... At its best, Engel’s novel interrogates the idea of American exceptionalism, though the term never appears in the book ... Infinite Country falters only when, late in the book, Engel hands over the narration to Karina and Nando in a well-intentioned if discordant gesture to bring these previously unexamined characters into the foreground ... the shift in perspective and a surprise twist deflate what had been airtight storytelling ... It’s not a fatal error. Engel brings the story of Elena and Mauro, and that of Talia’s quest for freedom, to a satisfying close.
RaveThe Washington PostA former historian of science, Macdonald is as captivated by the everyday (ants, bird’s nests) as she is by the extraordinary (glowworms, total solar eclipses), and her writing often closes the distance between the two ... Always, the author pushes through the gloom to look beyond herself, beyond all people, to \'rejoice in the complexity of things\' and to see what science has to show us: \'that we are living in an exquisitely complicated world that is not all about us\' ... The climate crisis shadows these essays. Macdonald is not, however, given to sounding dire, all-caps warnings ... For all its elegiac sentences and gray moods, Vesper Flights is a book of tremendous purpose. Throughout these essays, Macdonald revisits the idea that as a writer it is her responsibility to take stock of what’s happening to the natural world and to convey the value of the living things within it.
RaveThe Washington PostKaufman’s loopy, loony, 720-page raspberry of a first novel. A dyspeptic satire that owes much to Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon, Antkind has in Rosenberg a contrarian whose tomatoes are always rotten ... Why spend a minute, let alone 720 pages, with this guy? For starters, he can be outrageously funny, often without meaning to be ... His chronic misspelling of famous names (Jake Gillibrand, Tarrantinoo) is the novel’s best running joke ... Kaufman, of course, is the clever one here, and he has a blast tweaking toxic masculinity, celebrity worship, political correctness, filmmaking, therapy, high art, low art and much more ... for all the absurd digressions and circuitous detours, Antkind remains propelled by Kaufman’s deep imagination, considerable writing ability and bull’s-eye wit.
RaveThe Philadelphia Inquirer... [a] loopy, loony, 720-page raspberry of a first novel. A dyspeptic satire that owes much to Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon, Antkind has in Rosenberg a contrarian whose tomatoes are always rotten ... Why spend a minute, let alone 720 pages, with this guy? For starters, he can be outrageously funny, often without meaning to be ... Kaufman, of course, is the clever one here, and he has a blast tweaking toxic masculinity, celebrity worship, political correctness, filmmaking, therapy, high art, low art, and much more ... long but never dull ... Keeping up with the story is nearly impossible. But for all the absurd digressions and circuitous detours, Antkind remains propelled by Kaufman’s deep imagination, considerable writing ability, and bull’s-eye wit.
C Pam Zhang
RaveThe Washington Post... Outstanding ... Zhang does more than just push against the cowboy narrative: She shoves it clear out of the way ... At once subversive and searching ... This is not a writer who flinches from the grotesque ... the novel shows how the stories we tell ourselves and others are often incomplete — and that goes double for the stories we tell about other people.
PositiveThe Washington PostOffill is in total control here, and all the asides, jokes and Q&As reflect the fraying state of Lizzie’s mind as her concerns over the climate crisis, the Trump administration, pernicious algorithms and other man-made threats intensify. Lizzie’s predicament, and the real question at the heart of this novel, is how she is supposed to prepare for the end of the world when day-to-day life itself is so maddening ... Weather is too sharp a book to allow for pessimism or apathy. There is simply too much to be done, and there are too many people to care for and about, the novel argues, to not work through our deepest fears and fight our way past this crisis.
Terry Tempest Williams
PositiveThe Atlantic... impassioned ... Williams understands that her observations—and, ultimately, her faith in humanity and optimism about its future—come from a place of privilege ... Williams’s impatience with subtlety, penchant for aphorisms, and wide embrace of repetition threaten to dull the book’s message early on. But the more she repeats her arguments—sometimes within the same paragraph—for saving public lands, standing up to the oil and gas industries, and building \'another world in the ashes of this one,\' the more effective Erosion becomes.
MixedThe AtlanticJamie doesn’t join the chorus of voices calling for immediate action to prevent the effects of climate change from getting worse. She admits to feeling \'powerless to resist\' the \'global forces and corporations\' blamed for the crisis. She can’t, however, be accused of throwing in with the climate defeatists. Surfacing is a work of cautious optimism, with the author occasionally tilting too far toward wide-eyed hope.
PositiveThe Washington Post... a moving account of the emotional stumbles, physical and intellectual wanderings and deep losses Smith experienced in her 70th year ... Smith finds art everywhere, and each of her books offers a welcome look at what has captured her attention.
PositiveThe AtlanticTo [the] \'grumbling\' grammarians, the Montreal-based linguist Gretchen McCulloch says: Lighten up lol. In her new book...McCulloch challenges the idea that the rise of informal writing signals a trend toward global idiocy. Instead, she marks it as an inevitable and necessary \'disruption\' in the way human beings communicate ... Drawing from her research and that of other linguists, McCulloch shows how creative respellings, expressive punctuation, emoji, memes, and other hallmarks of informal communication online demonstrate a sophistication that can rival even the most elegant writing ... With Because Internet, McCulloch is offering \'a snapshot of a particular moment in time and how we got that way, not a claim to correctness or immortality.\' And she calls for humility from those who are fluent in internet language and culture.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe central characters in this sad and funny book are recognizable not as easily boxed, felonious stereotypes but as complex, flesh-and-blood human beings ... Arnett gets many things right in this first novel ... Most of all, Arnett skillfully and humanely captures the agony and confusion of surviving a loved one’s suicide ... smart and empathic.
RaveThe Seattle TimesFor anyone whose opinion of Florida and its residents largely depends on social media and those mean-spirited \'Florida Man\' headlines, Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things may come as a disappointment. The central characters in this sad and funny book are recognizable not as easily boxed, felonious stereotypes but as complex, flesh-and-blood human beings ... Arnett...gets many things right in this first novel: the feeling of being trapped and vulnerable within one’s own family; the frustration of trying to look to the future when the past has \'its teeth dug into you like a rabid animal\'; how \'love makes you an open wound, susceptible to infection\'; and the manifold risks of swimming in a warm Florida lake, where if an alligator doesn’t get you, a brain-eating amoeba might. Most of all, Arnett skillfully and humanely captures the agony and confusion of surviving a loved one’s suicide ... smart and empathic ...
RaveThe Atlantic[Russell\'s] characters tend to behave as if they’re not sure whether they belong to nature or it belongs to them, and when they do land on the correct answer, it’s usually much too late. Whereas Russell’s previous collections treated these worries with doses of myth and magical realism, in Orange World, Russell is fully awake to the nightmarish side of her imagination ... Russell brings plenty of surface-level absurdity to Orange World ... as clever as all this may be, Russell has weighted the characters in Orange World with personal crises that—to them—can seem as monumental as global ones ... What’s most unusual about Russell’s work is how paradoxically comforting it is, particularly right now, when it takes no great leap of the imagination to picture a world, orange or otherwise, without our species. This is not misanthropy or defeatism. Russell is scared, too, but her new book stands as a reminder that worrying about the future and grieving it are not the same thing.
PositiveThe Atlantic\"... heartrending ... Parkland is the first book about the shooting that’s not marketed toward teens and young adults. It also may be the most optimistic of the bunch. Cullen is less concerned with recounting the horror that took place in the school’s freshman building, and analyzing the institutional and societal failures that led to it, than he is in capturing the urgency that propelled the movement from Kasky’s living room to voting booths across the country ... Parkland can be an inspiring read. [Cullen\'s] behind-the-scenes interviews and interactions with the group’s leaders provide a lot of insight into their strategies and expectations ... Cullen obviously connected with the kids, and he movingly relays their confidence that real and lasting change is within reach. If only he had taken more time to tell their story ... Parkland arrived just 363 days after the Stoneman Douglas murders. As such, the narrative often feels hurried, and Cullen occasionally succumbs to the first-they-did-this-and-then-they-did-that method of storytelling. His prose can seem unbridled.\
RaveThe Atlantic\"Now in his 70s, Lopez writes with fervid wonder and fascination about all he’s seen and experienced ... Horizon amplifies these warnings [about the need to work together to save the environmentt] to an almost deafening level and makes any travel writing that doesn’t share Lopez’s sense of responsibility and purpose seem derelict by comparison ... It’s thrilling to read about Lopez watching through the window of a locomotive ... And Lopez’s descriptions of hiking through the middle of a polar desert in the Arctic are invigorating ... It requires a certain degree of ego and fortune to be able to share stories about flying a kite at the South Pole, diving the Great Barrier Reef, and dodging venomous mambas in Kenya. Lopez recognizes this, but he also heeds the demand for humility inherent in such adventures.\
PositiveThe Washington Post... a fast read. Szalay begins each chapter with a clear throat and a determined gaze, and the stories jump from their opening lines ... Szalay is not, however, a breathless storyteller. While he’s masterful at quickly establishing a mood and a character, he creates humid, uncomfortable tales, their air thick with worry and the threat of tragedy ... Much of the fun of Turbulence — and yes, there is joy to be had in reading this cheerless but clever book — is discovering how Szalay will upend the reader’s perspective of a character from one chapter to the next ... Szalay understands that how people respond to one another during life-changing events can be just as important as the events themselves.