Jane Ciabattari is a columnist for BBC.com [the global books column Between the Lines] and The Literary Hub and a regular contributor to NPR and many other publications. She is vice president/online and a former president of the National Book Critics Circle and a member of the San Francisco Writers Grotto. She can be found on Twitter @janeciab
RaveThe Boston GlobeHer 14 stories are so fluid and close to the mystery of life that reading them is like being inside the mind of a writer as she creates, shaping language within her spacious imagination, suffusing words with empathy, darting in unexpected directions before she reveals a final mysterious truth ... Munro begins her stories in surprising places, usually in the midst of the action. It is a measure of the restless energy of these tales that several start on trains ... Munro writes about ordinary people dealing with confusions, failures, and sustained visions of what might have been; she skewers the narrow-minded and creates lasting portraits of the neglected and forlorn, unveiling their secrets with delicate grace ... Dear Life is a wondrous gift; a reminder of why Munro’s work endures.
RaveNPRCoplin establishes a clear parallel between these needy, damaged girls and Talmadge\'s long-lost sister Elsbeth, showing a solitary man opening up to the renewed possibility of family ... Coplin is masterful at tracing the inner life of the troubled Della, and the release she finds in taming wild horses ... The Orchardist is a stunning accomplishment, hypnotic in its storytelling power, by turns lyrical and gritty, and filled with marvels. Coplin displays a dazzling sense of craftsmanship, and a talent for creating characters vivid and true. She also gives us insightful glimpses of the American West in the throes of a massive shift away from the agricultural style of life.
RaveNPR...high-hearted and soulful ... In this novel, she weaves elaborate surreal elements...into a realistic narrative, replete with descriptions of Los Angeles weather patterns, the textures of vending-machine food and the byproducts of Rose\'s mother\'s study of woodworking ... Rose\'s nuanced responses to food mirror the emotional intensity of growing up in a Los Angeles family with its share of troublesome quirks ... Bender convinces us effortlessly that by the time Rose is a high school graduate, she can tell the terroir of the ingredients in food she eats ... And she concludes this virtuoso performance with a flourish by showing us a surprising yet somehow inevitable future, where Rose\'s particular gift brings its own rewards.
PositiveO, the Oprah Magazine...[a] quiet and beautiful new novel ... Jonas\'s story might have become a litany of the brutal patterns passed from one generation to the next, but thanks to uncanny empathy and a deep understanding of history, Mengestu transcends heartbreak and offers up the hope that despite all obstacles, love can survive.
RaveLos Angeles TimesHillenbrand tells [Zamperini\'s] story as a nearly continuous flow of suspense ... Hillenbrand\'s vivid accounts of battles, technological advances such as the top-secret Norden bombsight, explanations of Japanese policy toward POWs (including a \'kill-all\' order at war\'s end) as well as her footnotes and acknowledgments detailing her research are all worthy of careful reading. But it is the tension of Zamperini\'s fight to live in barbaric conditions that makes Unbroken so disturbing and thrilling.
RaveBBCAbel is as adept at glossing the politics of the Reagan era and class anger as she is charting shifts in the landscape and change among campers, counsellors and Caleb himself. A fresh and savvy first novel.
RaveNPR...echoes through the pages of Chang-rae Lee's harrowing and elegiac new novel about the anguish and cruelty of war ... In slow-evolving scenes, Lee immerses us in the palpable universe of violence and deprivation as experienced by soldiers and civilians alike. He works methodically to show the corrosive power of witnessing ... This array of bones, stark and artfully arranged, is an apt artistic leitmotif for The Surrendered; with impeccable language and overarching compassion, Lee has created a timeless tragedy and a triumph.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleBy using the rare first-person plural point of view, Otsuka combines the tragic power of a Greek chorus with the intimacy of a confession. She conjures up the lost voices of a generation of Japanese American women without losing sight of the distinct experience of each … In these poetic sections, she covers a roughly 20-year arc of the picture brides' lives from voyage to wedding night to adjustment to the foreign culture to bearing and raising English-speaking children … The Buddha in the Attic is an understated masterpiece about our treatment of the ‘other,’ the distillation of a national tragedy that unfolds with great emotional power.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleKingsolver opens Flight Behavior in a frenzy, as Dellarobia Turnbow, a one-time rebel girl with two young children and a husband hopelessly browbeaten by his mother, rushes up a mountain hollow to a tryst with a younger man … Her discovery of the ‘lake of fire’ ushers in change on all fronts. The usually passive Cub stands up in church to say that his wife has had a vision that something major was about to happen on their property, and they shouldn't start logging up there. During the hullabaloo that follows, Dellarobia's image goes viral on the Internet as a mashup ‘butterfly Venus’ … By the end of Flight Behavior, it's clear that Kingsolver's passionate voice and her ability to portray the fragility of the natural world, and why we should care about it, are as strong as ever.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesHosseini, too, offers us the sweep of historic upheavals narrated with the intimacy of family and village life. In his new novel, he weaves the stories of two Afghan women during several decades of cultural turmoil … What keeps this novel vivid and compelling are Hosseini's eye for the textures of daily life and his ability to portray a full range of human emotions, from the smoldering rage of an abused wife to the early flutters of maternal love when a woman discovers she is carrying a baby.
PositiveNPRThe Woman Upstairs opens with extraordinary heat and momentum … As [Nora’s] infatuation with the Shahids grows, she seems disturbingly off-balance, aware she is making more of the relationship than they … The core of The Woman Upstairs — Messud's intimate portrait of two women artists, Nora, the inhibited American ‘woman upstairs,’ constrained by reality and working in miniature, and Sirena, the European ‘Purveyor of Dreams,’ capable of drawing upon East and West, Then and Now, Imaginary and Real — is brilliant.
RaveThe Boston GlobeGeorge Saunders captures the fragmented rhythms, disjointed sensory input, and wildly absurd realities of the 21st century experience like no other writer. He is satiric without being sarcastic, ironic yet compassionate … Like Kurt Vonnegut before him, Saunders is morally acute and attuned to injustice. In this new collection, he also shows a new, more tender side. Even his writing about dark subjects like violence and suicide is shot through with illumination. In the best of these new stories — ‘Victory Lap,’ ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries,’ and ‘Tenth of December’ — Saunders swings wide the gates and ushers us into the human realm with all its ambiguities.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeErdrich’s artistry allows us to slip inside Joe’s skin easily as he is drawn into an adult role overnight, empathizing with his mother’s pain and joining his father in a search for the identity of the man ‘whose act had nearly severed [his] mother’s spirit from her body’ … Erdrich reveals the mystery of the attack and its roots in the past with spellbinding precision. She parses the legal enigma, including jurisdictional questions, and connects the case in Ojibwe tradition to the legendary wiindigo, which could cast its spirit inside a person, turning him into an animal preying on other humans … The Round House is one of her best — concentrated, suspenseful, and morally profound.
RaveNPRStripped down, Swamplandia!, Karen Russell's debut novel, is one more young writer's saga of a dysfunctional family. But Russell is a rare talent … After this contemporary Southern Gothic opening, Russell takes us through a breathtaking series of spins. She is as agile at describing the creatures and characters of swampland Florida as she is at offering accounts of Ava's youthful yearnings and Kiwi's humiliating low-level job at a competing theme park. A huge chunk of the novel revolves around Ava's attempts to track down Ossie in the underworld, a days-long journey through haunted swamp, with a half-crazy outlier known as the Bird Man … Powered by Russell's vivid wordplay and imaginative energy, Swamplandia! is a continuously alluring phantasmagoria.
RaveNPRDana Spiotta's fearless, ambitious new novel is the fourth in a remarkable series of deep dives into our culture's obsession with fame and technological change...Spiotta has been compared to Joan Didion and Don DeLillo, but as her work accumulates, it's clear she's one of a kind, on her singular path through our contemporary wilderness.
RaveNPRAs the little group hurtles toward Stalin's death, Levinson and his 'ensemble of actors' improvising the last act in their deadly serious plot, Goldberg orchestrates a resounding finale to complete his dazzling tragicomic debut — all of it enhanced by the book's echoing refrain: 'Has it begun?'
RaveNPRThe stories in Thirteen Ways of Looking reflect an understanding of the swiftly disappearing flow of our lives as knowing and unflinching as any by Joyce or Chekhov.
Bonnie Jo Campbell
RaveNPR“Mothers, Tell Your Daughters is filled with shifts like this, when a turn of fate, a moment in nature, brings surprises and revealing insights. And within the turmoil and the troubles, the demands and the limits of life, Campbell reminds us, there are possibilities for moments of grace.”
PositiveNPRTuck inhabits the spacious realm of the imagination, shifting time zones and historic periods effortlessly, weaving memories and photographs, family stories and facts, as Liliane's mesmerizing portrait emerges.