RaveThe Toronto Star (CA)Blasim’s stories grow stranger and more fractured as he chronicles life in Iraq, first under Saddam Hussein during the wars with Iran and Kuwait, then during the American occupation and the resulting influx of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and Iran ... The stories also grow more nuanced, as if Blasim, who has lived in Finland for 10 years, is slowly mastering the incendiary raw material of his work ... This is not to reduce Blasim to a mere chronicler of a terrible chapter in history — his writing would be as assured and striking if he were telling the tale of a domestic crisis or a middle-class coming-of-age story. His radical narrative techniques also owe much to such literary influences as Kafka, Borges, Dostoevsky, and Julio Cortázar ... infused with black comedy, inventive storytelling, arresting metaphors and images, and true compassion for the victims of Iraq and outrage at the perpetrators.
Bret Easton Ellis
MixedToronto Star...a messy jumble of memoir, social critique and unhinged bile ... The contrast between an earlier era Ellis characterizes as defiantly expressive and our current cultural moment is overplayed in several of the book’s loosely structured chapters ... Even more interesting are his open-ended musings on the impact of digital media on our long-cherished notions of privacy and individuality ... There are other gems in what is an overly long book. Especially good are Ellis’s mini-essays on the revolutionary use of the inverted male gaze in Paul Schrader’s 1980 film American Gigolo, the pop genius of the Bangles’ first two albums, and how feelings of personal disintegration led to the creation of Patrick Bateman ... his observations on Millennials — Generation Wuss, he calls them — are too broad at times for a satirist of his skills. But like all of Ellis’s work, White is informed by a febrile, unflinching vision rare in any era.
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
PositiveToronto Star\"The celebrated work of Argentine author Samanta Schweblin... manages to challenge literary categorization without putting off readers with annoying postmodern noodling or arcane language. In Mouthful of Birds, Schweblin’s first collection of stories, her sparse, surrealist voice conjures a menagerie of disturbed families and dead animals, and empty landscapes teeming with hidden menace and meanings. Even the sparest of these stories elicits the same jolt as viewing an accomplished painter’s preliminary sketches and visual studies.\
W. Scott Poole
PositiveThe Toronto StarIn Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror historian W. Scott Poole argues that the traumas of the First World War still echo through our culture 100 years later. From the The Walking Dead’s zombie hordes to the faceless killing machines of the Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises, the monsters of our collective imagination were born from the world’s first truly modern war ... Poole sees not only the shadows of a war lost to living memory but a whole new set of cultural anxieties.
MixedToronto Star\"A brooding work of dark fantasy, In the Night Wood explores the allure and dangers of the Gothic, with its family curses and manor houses and haunted landscapes ... Bailey’s prose is dense and rich with allusions, perhaps too many for such a short novel, but In the Night Wood is ultimately a satisfying retelling of horror’s foundational text: the haunted house story.\
MixedToronto Star\"In his third novel, We Sold Our Souls, Hendrix reveals an equal passion for pulp horror’s mutant stepsibling: heavy metal ... A consistently funny, smart and affecting love letter to horror and metal fandom, We Sold Our Souls is also damn scary and tense when it needs to be.\
RaveToronto Star\"Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel nimbly works [traditional horror genre] conventions to provide a searing and often witty portrait of sibling rivalry and the brutal legacy of Nigerian patriarchal mores ... Written in a sparse but lyrical style, My Sister, the Serial Killer is an assured debut, haunting and strangely beautiful.\
RaveThe Toronto Star\"As Douthat argues persuasively throughout To Change the Church, this clash between rival wings of the Church mirrors a larger battle playing out across the world, between tradition and modernity, between those who judge truth to be objective and unchanging and those who view truth as relative to the individual and their personal circumstances ... Douthat’s work of diligent reportage and analysis offer a good starting point for anyone interested in entering into a fascinating, two-millennia-old dialogue still being played in an ancient institution that commands the loyalty of more than a billion followers.\
Jordan B. Peterson
PositiveThe Toronto StarLike the best intellectual polymaths, Peterson invites his readers to embark on their own intellectual, spiritual and ideological journeys into the many topics and disciplines he touches on. It’s a counter-intuitive strategy for a population hooked on the instant gratification of ideological conformity and social media 'likes,' but if Peterson is right, you have nothing to lose but your own misery.
RaveThe Toronto StarNo one familiar with Roddy Doyle’s work will be surprised that Smile, his 12th novel, opens in a Dublin pub, and not the type that the Irish Tourist Board will be featuring in their pamphlets any time soon ...early scenes demonstrate Doyle’s gift for capturing the witty and often cruel banter that animates Irish pub talk, where every compliment hides a hidden barb and every put-down seals an unspoken social bond ...novel elegantly shifts into a prolonged reflection on the misfortunes and failures of nerve that led Victor to this impasse ...a violent, dreamlike finale that will send many readers back to the novel’s first page to reassess everything they’ve read ... Only such confrontational force and honesty, Doyle is suggesting, can break the spell of bravado and willed forgetting that is the true cultural heritage of the Irish.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ed. Anne Margaret Daniel
PositiveThe Toronto StarNo English-language author ever wrote a more musical sentence than Fitzgerald, a stunning accomplishment considering his work’s diamond-like clarity. There is nothing vague or 'poetic' about his prose, even when it depicts the most romantic and fleeting of sensations. Those talents are on display to varying degrees throughout the collection ... Fitzgerald was anxious to explore new artistic and thematic territory, and to find a tone that would reconcile his romantic idealism to the harsh realities of adulthood ... Whether he lived up to his potential is for readers and scholars to decide, but few can doubt the greatness of what he did write in his hectic, too-short life, even the 'hack work' collected here.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
PositiveThe Toronto Star...the stories abound with images of doubleness and surreal twists of perception, often imbuing the narratives with a dreamlike clarity and strangeness. Nguyen’s characters have, naturally, been raised to view the world through a particular lens. What happens, he asks again and again, when that lens is made redundant by history and displacement? ... Memory is naturally a recurring theme in the stories, but Nguyen avoids the mawkish tone of so much backward-gazing literary fiction by anchoring his characters’ recollections in vivid often grotesque imagery ... throughout the collection Nguyen crafts a personal language and imagery superbly fitted to each character’s volatile, near-inexpressible memories and reflections. He instinctively understands what to leave off the page and what to include, and when to allow readers to fill in the most painful details for themselves. For all of the collection’s strengths — and they are many — the final impression, at least for this reviewer, is of a novelist recharging his creative batteries and exploring tropes, ideas and character types that will likely be expanded upon in a future novel.