RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWhat I always enjoy in Campbell’s work is her precise way of guiding a reader who may know nothing about southern Michigan across the natural landscape so that it becomes visible and easy to imagine. She also doesn’t hesitate to develop the individualities of each (usually female) character ... A thought-provoking and readable exploration of eccentricity and of all different kinds of love — familial love, romantic love, love of knowledge, love of animals and love of one’s own environment, even when it is a difficult place to live.
Harrison Scott Key
RaveThe Washington PostKey’s style is as far from spare or minimal as a style can be, but maybe that’s part of its allure ... Key does a great job of reproducing the chaos that the conflict brings into the lives of every member of the family ... Lauren’s insights into her own feelings are both surprising and intriguing.
Halldor Laxness, trans. by Philip Roughton
PositiveThe Washington PostLaxness explores Salka’s inner life and the social and economic circumstances of the village as both change over the course of about 20 years. Her story is long and somber, but Laxness is adept at putting in some amusing observations ... For modern readers, especially those who are aware of what a prosperous and enlightened tourist destination Iceland has become, Salka Valka is a wonderful exposure to Iceland’s troubled past and to the Icelandic sensibility that comes from making the best of things even when there isn’t much to be made. Laxness’s characters are rough and honest, and Salka Valka is one of the most empathetic portraits of a girl and a woman that I’ve read by a male author. This new translation is readable and compelling.
PositiveThe Washington PostMaybe reading Eliza Reid’s book, Secrets of the Sprakkar, in the hot tub is part of why I enjoyed it so much, but it\'s also true that Reid’s style is amusing, her thoughts are honest, and the issues she discusses are becoming more important by the day ... Reid writes in hopes that the rest of the world might see Iceland as a model, and, in addition to agreeing with her, I also recommend her short, well-written, amusing and detailed book.
J. R. Thorp
MixedThe Washington PostLearwife is written in an understandable modern style, but it takes place in an undefined historical period where convents and Christianity coexist with pre-Christian belief systems, and this combination of modern style (and, to some extent, a modern sense of the main character’s inner life) has its drawbacks—a reader who would like to picture the larger society and locate where the novel is taking place is out of luck ... As with many stream-of-consciousness novels, Thorp has to walk the thin line between a character who reveals her feelings and thoughts constantly, thereby seeming rather self-obsessed and off-putting, and showing what the character sees around her and what the larger picture is. Since the queen is confined and doesn’t understand the larger picture, her detailed narrative can be a little slow—reading Learwife is a little like reading Ulysses—you either get used to it or you don’t. One thing the author is good at, but is also a challenge for the reader, is exploring how the queen’s own sanity is fading ... Learwife doesn’t work perfectly, but what debut novel does? Thorpe places her bet on psychological complexity that evolves into more psychological complexity as the story unfolds. You may have to read it twice before you take it in, but I believe it is worth it.
Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
RaveThe Washington Post[S]he does a brilliant job of conveying, sentence by sentence and word by word, the exotic nature of Icelandic life, its harshness, its connection to the land and to history, and its amusing qualities ... Olafsdottir’s novel is not autobiographical — most of it takes place in 1963, when Olafsdottir, born in 1958, was five. But she must have been a very observant child, because the distinctive nature of every scene and every character takes hold of the reader immediately ... The sexism and homophobia Olafsdottir portrays were not unusual for the time, but she surrounds it so precisely with details about life in Iceland that it seems to glow with renewed fervor.
MixedThe Washington PostThat is how straightforward and realistic Lombardo’s depiction of her characters is—you could eavesdrop on them or look into their windows, and this is, in many ways, Lombardo’s singular achievement in her debut novel. Her depiction of how her characters talk, how they relate, how they form their family is so precise that you must believe in them, and you must also be interested in them ... Lombardo’s sense of drama is evocative and riveting. When she means to shock or frighten the reader, she does ... But the downside of one crisis after another is that the reader might recoil from the onslaught—there never seems to be a time, over 40 years or so, when life just moves along in a relaxing and ordinary way ... A novel has to have a plot and a few mysteries the narrative must build toward. Lombardo’s are mysteries of character ... The Most Fun We Ever Had is an ambitious and brilliantly written first novel, sometimes amusing and sometimes shocking, but its unrelenting nature and lack of context is ultimately off-putting.
RaveThe GuardianHis mostly male characters...court risk, take toxic masculinity for granted and get into a lot of trouble. Sometimes they feel remorse; mostly they get into worse trouble ... What keeps drawing me into Jones’s stories is the precision of his language. His mastery of 60s and 70s American idiom doesn’t date the pieces. Rather, it locates them. In some ways, he reminds me of one of my favourite writers, Damon Runyon, also known for his idiosyncratic style, though he was more comical than Jones. Jones knew that the short story has to present a bang rather than build up to it, as the novel does ... Like Alice Munro, he was able to pour thoughts and feelings into a small mould and boil them down until they had the complexity of a novel but much more sharpness ... Jones believably explores what it feels like to be afflicted with strange or terminal conditions, as well as with anger and rage. These stories put you off, draw you in, show you states of mind that you may never have experienced. They are intensely lively and down to earth; adventurous, often harsh but subtly self-effacing; both a generational portrait and a self-portrait of one of the strangest writers of our times.
PositiveThe Guardian\"Lean on Pete is the story of a boy and his horse, but it is never heart-warming – it ranges in tone from desperate to merely painful – and, while fascinating, it is never entertaining or redemptive. But if you want an unadorned portrait of American life (at least in some places) at the beginning of the 21st century, this is the book for you ... Vlautin\'s eye for detail is sharp: every character is distinctly drawn and memorable. Each of Charley\'s encounters has the authentic feel of two lives intersecting and then diverging; they leap off the page as individuals with motives and backstories ... Given the ambition of Lean on Pete and Willy Vlautin\'s skill at limning character, it\'s something of a puzzle that the novel isn\'t more affecting. One problem is that Charley has, and maybe can have, no actual relationships. \
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"...what he cares about is giving the reader a sense of some of the authors he has enjoyed the most, and from whom he has learned the most ... White’s tone is conversational, and while his style is readable and the information is intriguing, the reader is tempted to wonder, \'Why bother?\' But patience is a virtue, and in the last 30 pages, White gets down to the nature of the real vice, often punished by readers and critics—no longer covert or overt homosexuality but political ambiguity...White is proposing that moral and biographical complexity is worth a reader’s attention, even if he or she doesn’t agree with the writer’s politics.\
RaveThe Globe and MailWagamese excels at this most important task of the novelist, which is to detail the 'how' of something: How it feels to be a 'rounder,' living on the streets, how it feels to experience horrifying events, or, in Indian Horse, how it feels to skate, to move the puck and to understand the dynamics of the game. He shows how it feels to uncover in oneself unexpected power and also to acknowledge amazing betrayal ... He is such a master of empathy – of delineating the experience of time passing, of lessons being learned, of tragedies being endured – that what Saul discovers becomes something the reader learns, as well, shocking and alien, valuable and true.
PositiveThe Washington PostHer four horse characters – Mr. Boll Weevil, Little Spinoza, Pelter and Lord of Misrule – are bursting with personality … Every race in these pages is strangely dramatic, no matter how cheap, and the races she describes are not only cheap, but also corrupt. Maybe the key is that the horses don't know that they are not supposed to try, and so they run themselves to the edge of their capacities just because they've been asked to. The result is that Lord of Misrule is a very somber novel, easy to like but hard to take … For that sense of being steeped in a specific and alien world, it is remarkable.
PositiveThe GuardianTim Pears’ new novel, the first in a trilogy, is a slow read. Not because it lacks suspense, but because the pleasure of it lies in taking in the language and the setting – the West Country, in 1911 and 1912 – and in reading it like a long poem, with each chapter a stanza ... As a protagonist, Leo is worth observing, but he is not especially sympathetic. Miss Charlotte is just about the only other character he interacts with. Pears’ habit of setting Leo so firmly in his environment has a downside as well as an upside – it’s easy to lose sight of him, which turns The Horseman into more of a tableau vivant than a narrative. And it is not as though the early 20th century hasn’t been thoroughly mined by English writers already. But Pears specialises in going his own way and doing the unexpected, so I am ready for volume two.
PositiveThe Washington Post...informative and intriguing ... All projects have their ups and downs, and those who write the books or do the projects should be open about them, but I, as a reader, was enlightened and entertained by The Voyeur’s Motel; Foos and Talese can be Masters and Johnson, or they can be Henry Miller. It is up to the reader to decide.
PositiveThe GuardianThe energy of Shriver’s style counteracts the remorselessness of her vision. The world that the Mandible family must negotiate is evoked in seamless detail ... The author and I don’t agree about the seminal causes of the impending dystopia: I think failure to address climate change when it was first understood in 1968 and the rapacious greed of corporations is what will destroy us; Shriver is more wary of the government, at first inept, then intrusive, and always demanding higher taxes. She makes an interesting case, however, and manages to twist the plot over and over so that unexpected events happen all the way to the end ... Every dystopia is a picture of what the author most dreads; Shriver is better than most at fleshing out her vision and bringing it alive.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewTyler works around the arranged-marriage setup brilliantly ... Tyler’s signature skill as a novelist is portraying her characters and her setting with such precise and amusing detail that pretty soon the reader is drawn in, willy-nilly. We know where this is heading, yet she does a great job putting up the roadblocks and incorporating the surprising curves ... Novels such as Anne Tyler’s, which are so precise and current, are like photographs or digital clock faces that tell us where we are and where we are coming from at the same time. Vinegar Girl is an earthy reflection of this fleeting moment, both lively and thoughtful.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times'Stories don't interest me,' Geoff Dyer told the Huffington Post in 2014. That this is true is evident in his new collection of essays, White Sands. Which doesn't mean that White Sands isn't a good read, because it is. You must, however, get used to Dyer's tone, which is persnickety and unenthusiastic. His virtue is not the whole-hearted embrace of experience and exotic locales but the parsing of degrees of disappointment. He also doesn't pretend to be heading anywhere, but then White Sands turns into a memoir and becomes unexpectedly moving.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Year of Lear is irresistible — a banquet of wisdom about the small and dramatic world that a 42-year-old playwright is living in, on the one hand, and a convincing and inspiring argument about how the mind of that playwright must have worked in order to meld his life with his productions.