PositiveNPR... might serve only as an echo-chamber treatment of The Handmaid\'s Tale, were it not for author Joanne Ramos\'s deft way of creating characters. She peoples her book with figures who are appealingly engaging — or, at times, engagingly repellent ... The circumstances of Mae\'s existence, the privilege, the grasping for prestige, are impeccably, savagely drawn ... If there is a hitch in the telling of this tale, it\'s that Ramos presents such a sunny picture of the Farm, the reader might feel an urge to check right in ... Some novels are born with book club DNA, great narratives that can also spur energetic discussions. Debate will rage around the treatment of the young women at the Farm, but the novel\'s complex mélange of personalities brings a somewhat improbable story stirringly to life.
RaveNPR...finely crafted ... Formula and genre can themselves be as suffocating as a coffin, but in such capable hands they become freeing, reinvigorated, and compelling ... By the time Bitter Orange reaches its bitter, bloody end, readers will be turning the pages with delicious trepidation. We are in Turn of the Screw territory here, unsure whether what happens is real or imagined, true or false, light or dark ... The novel balances its intense relationships with touches of the supernatural, and the writing percolates insidiously.
RaveNPR...[an] atmospheric, tragic novel ... Sorrow threads itself through the pages of The Court Dancer, yet there is a richness both to the period and the narrative as beautiful as any silk fan. Kyung-Sook Shin has become one of South Korea\'s most popular authors, and for good reason. Her deep understanding of the subtleties of the human heart effortlessly crosses borders and informs her portrait of a different place and a faraway time.
R O Kwon
PositiveNPR\"The Incendiaries finds its greatest depth in the conflation of politics and faith ... Some of Kwon\'s language delivers meaningful aperçus, while some passages simply try too hard ... Capturing the intensity of the groves of academe might require this kind of elevated puffery, but at times the meat is hard to stomach. Still, Kwon delivers a poignant and powerful look into the millenial mindset. It can be rocky, but it can also rock.\
MixedNPRDeath Notice becomes an ensemble piece, with a band of complementary characters that tend toward cardboard, some more corrugated than others, but all a tad flat ... Death Notice suffers somewhat from an irony deficiency. Tone wobbles abound, with romantic flourishes undermining the noir. What blows up big in China may prove to be a damp squib elsewhere — but some readers just may feel footsteps treading upon their own hearts.
PositiveNPR\"The author has sly, intelligent fun with the idea that the mindset necessary to live as a closeted queer woman transfers seamlessly to high-stakes espionage work; a spy and a not-yet-out lesbian are both undercover, in a sense—both are accustomed to subverting identity, using coded language, and seeking out covert action ... The book smartly juxtaposes Vera\'s rocky coming of age with her espionage adventures. It could come off as contrived and heavy-handed, but Knecht makes it work ... John le Carré and many other writers make hay with the personal repercussions of assuming false identity. Knecht flips the terms artfully, showing us a heroine who discovers her true tough self by going undercover. By the end of Who is Vera Kelly? the reader is rooting for Vera to claim her much deserved personal freedom as much as succeed as a spy.\
Zora Neale Hurston
RaveNPR\"The eye-opening, terrifying and wonderful Barracoon demonstrates an intimacy and immediacy that some of those interview-based [slave] narratives lack ... Hurston\'s use of vernacular might be a stumbling block for the modern reader, but it was the accepted professional approach of the day...The reader who commits to that vernacular is richly rewarded for persistence ... Short enough to be read in a single sitting, this book is one of those gorgeous, much too fleeting things. An introduction by literary critic Deborah Plant gives welcome context for Hurston\'s journey of discovery, while an appendix showcases additional folk tales from Kossula\'s African past. Brimming with observational detail from a man whose life spanned continents and eras, the story is at times devastating, but Hurston\'s success in bringing it to light is a marvel.\
RaveNPRBeneath a Ruthless Sun plunges the reader deeply into the legal practices, civil rights battles, and stubborn sexual inequalities of the mid-20th century, but this fast-moving and impeccably sourced book is anything but a slog. Truth oftentimes beggars belief, and the 'true' in 'true crime' can be a promise that betrays as much as it entices. Not so with Gilbert King's scorching, compelling, and — unfortunately — still entirely relevant new work.
RaveNPR\"So it\'s bracing to read Elaine Weiss\'s stirring, definitive, and engrossing treatment of winning suffrage in America, The Woman\'s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote. Weiss brings a lucid, lively, journalistic tone to the story. Perhaps her greatest contribution is documenting the intricate, contentious element of racism that almost crippled the struggle. For that insight alone, The Woman\'s Hour is compulsory reading. In America, as we need to be reminded over and over, it\'s always about race.\
PanNPRThe problem with Camp Forevermore is a fatal one — the action is too tame, the consequences too attenuated, the Mean Girls trope too predictable, for the set-up to pay off in any satisfyingly dramatic way. It's not Lord of the Flies, more like Girls Gone Mild ... The unhappy campers stay unhappy — quoth the raven — forevermore. Early trauma makes a satisfying life an impossibility — a fair point, though the trauma here seems too slight to carry so much weight.
RaveNPRMelanie Benjamin, who has built an entire oeuvre out of dramatizing the lives of real historical heroines, delivers what in Variety lingo would be termed a boffo production with The Girls in the Picture, the saga of Pickford and Marion from the first flush of their friendship to its ignominious end ... One of the pleasures of The Girls in the Picture its no-males-necessary alliance of two determined females — #TimesUp before its time ... Most important, though, in Benjamin's telling, is the euphoria that comes with the freedom to create ... Inspiration is a rare and unexpected gift in a book filled with the fluff of Hollywood, but Benjamin provides it with The Girls in the Picture.
PositiveNPROn offer in The Immortalists is the kind of in-depth research, period and otherwise, which can occasionally turn to sludge...But the writing mostly flows easily ... The reader will likely be thoroughly taken by the world of the Gold siblings, in all its shades of brilliant color. It's not a totally comfortable realm, since we know all too well how this tale's going to end, but getting there is lovely.
RaveNPR\"Mrs. Caliban is being reissued, a timely resurrection in this gender-mesmerized time, given the author\'s proto-feminist take on life … Larry and Dorothy gallivant under the cover of night, through lush flower gardens and by the moonlit ocean...Dorothy\'s way of coping with Larry\'s potential for violence forms the fundamental conundrum of Mrs. Caliban, which, sexual politics aside, is in many ways deftly light and humorous … Ingalls has an oddball, off-center vision, replete with sharply observed glimpses of the surreal in ordinary life.\
PositiveNPR...Mrs. Osmond, a novel that makes a valiant imaginative leap but stumbles along the way ...Banville attempts to tie up the loose ending ... Banville chooses not to sketch her later life on such a grand scale; this sequel covers only a number of weeks, picking up after Isabel leaves the refuge of her aunt's estate in the English countryside ...Isabel as a moping schemer little resembles the lively, lovely young lady of Portrait ... The writing, in its effort to rise to a Jamesian level, can be elegant but at times overcooked...in the drama of Isabel's revenge that Banville's story shows its true strength.
RaveNPRWallace's fabulous new work of encyclopedic nonfiction gives readers delightful glimpses of madness, feigned or otherwise, along with other kaleidoscopic aspects of turn-of-the-last-century New York ... Dip your bucket anywhere and you will find something engaging. Every reader will have their favorite passages. Mine ran the gamut, each one making me want to go find a friend and share ... It is this combination of the scholarly and the pop that makes it such a compelling read. The average reader will find herself eager to pick up the book — and not just for bicep curls.
PositiveNPRJulia and Evan pass the narrative baton back and forth in alternating chapters. Presenting different takes on the same events is not a new strategy, but it works well here, especially as they grow increasingly estranged, and their contrasting visions fall into sharper relief ... Pitoniak's precise and incisive powers of observation give us a book with startling grace notes ... A little amphetamine wildness is something The Futures could use. Yet Julie and Evan's world is not that of Kerouac, and the people who populate the New York City of 2008 have their own challenges. Grim as their world tends to be, it is our world, and Pitoniak gets much of it right.
MixedNPRAs the novel opens, Machiavelli travels as an envoy from Florence to Rome. Dunant deftly humanizes the man behind the classic text ... We are not quite in Hilary Mantel territory here, where descriptions of a royal court shine with subtlety and intellectual ferment. With Dunant plot is primary, and the story must keep chugging onward ... Italy's patchwork quilt of kingdoms and duchies in the period were enough to challenge any cartographer, and occasionally frustrated this reader. I could have used a map.
Min Jin Lee
RaveNPRPachinko is the kind of book that can open your eyes and fill them with tears at the same time ... We are in Buddenbrooks territory here, tracing a family dynasty over a sprawl of seven decades, and comparing the brilliantly drawn Pachinko to Thomas Mann's classic first novel is not hyperbole. Lee bangs and buffets and pinballs her characters through life, love and sorrow, somehow making her vast, ambitious narrative seem intimate ... Lee deftly sketches a half-familiar, half-foreign but oftentimes harsh new world of a Korean immigrant in imperialist Japan ... This is honest writing, fiction that looks squarely at what is, both terrible and wonderful.
RaveNPRThe Strays invites readers into a world that is by turns disturbing and magical ... Word pictures which elevate the ordinary to exquisite appear throughout Bitto's novel, appropriate to a book that focuses so much on the glory of art ... With precise and graceful turns of phrase, Bitto reveals the bond of passion between the two girls, which seems unbreakable but inevitably snaps under all that can't be said. And she delivers all of this with a grace and eloquence which rival that of the young friends' bond.
PositiveNPRBy Gaslight proves engrossing enough to warrant its forest-depleting bulk. I found myself returning to passages not only because I occasionally lost the thread of this historical mystery's manifold plots, sub-plots and asides, but because I wanted to revisit the somber music of the telling ... Spinning fiction out of fact, Price creates an evocative world, cast not in shades of stark black and white, but rather in morally complex herringbone ... By Gaslight can be seen as Arthur Conan Doyle by way of Dickens by way of Faulkner. Intense, London-centric, threaded through with a melancholy brilliance, it is an extravagant novel that takes inspiration from the classics and yet remains wholly itself.
MixedNPRIt's an audacious ploy for a neophyte novelist, to share a character, or hijack one, from an eminence like Steinbeck, who practically wrote the book on colorful characters. The result is decidedly uneven ... A strength of Hatton's approach is her delicate yet dramatic descriptions of sea creatures, most of which few readers will have encountered ... The true grounding for Hatton's novel comes not from imagistic frou-frou, nor from fanciful meta literary strategies, but from the author's experiences growing up in Monterey Bay herself, during which time she worked long hours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You feel she knows her stuff, and there's poetry in it.
Ben H. Winters
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewAn immersive thriller as well as a provocative alternative history, Underground Airlines showcases a fully realized central character who believes his own disturbing past can be kept safely buried. But history has a way of bubbling to the surface of the present. Winters succeeds in rendering the slave catcher monstrous but capable of redemption as Victor’s sympathies shift to the underground side.
Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner
PositiveNPRThe darkly poetic voice she evoked in her previous work reveals itself in a different way here, working within the constraints of writing text for a cartoon frame. At times limitations can bring freedom, and the very terseness required here offers power, linguistic clarity and dramatic opportunities that draw the reader into an emotionally compelling world ... The anxieties expressed here extend beyond sharks, naturally. The obvious touchstone here is Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, and Wyld likewise delivers an incisive portrait of a father who provides a forceful foil for the main character ... The power of the prose in Everything is Teeth is magnified by Joe Sumner's illustrations, which combine primitive yet delicate portraits of the girl and her surroundings with viciously realistic renderings of sharks swimming through the pages. Readers can feel the heroine's palpable fright as she refuses to enter the sea to swim with her family ... a magical trip into a world that we're happy to glimpse from the shore.
RaveNPRMore lives thread through Homegoing's pages, in a narrative that is earnest, well-crafted yet not overly self-conscious, marvelous without being precious. Fine details continue to build each individual's world ... In Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi has given rare and heroic voice to the missing and suppressed.
RaveNPR...[a]thoroughly seductive debut ... we are captured by Cline's haunting creation as surely as the real Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten, and Susan Atkins fell under a madman's spell ... Though the long-withheld climax chilled me, the less physically violent sections of the novel disturbed me much more. The Girls promises to be the novel of the summer, with good reason. Readers will down Cline's spooky, twisted narrative in a gulp, and then they'll go off to bed with the lights on.
Herta Müller, Trans. by Peter Boehm
RaveNPR..remarkable...'Tell a dream, lose a reader,' Henry James pronounces, but Müller provides exceptions to the rule. Here, dreams become extensions of life, or life itself is a dream; they are cut, at any rate, from one and the same fabric, consistently lurid and terrifying. Witchery in the form of 'melon blood' is used to capture men's affections. A tiger-striped cat has eaten her annual litter of kittens for years. We see a living man with a hatchet blade stuck in his skull. This is the reality of Ceausescu's Romania, where Adina attempts to survive. No nightmare could be worse.
RaveNPRCharmingly disturbing. Delightfully dour. Pleasingly perverse. These are some of the oxymorons that ran through my mind as I read Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh's intense, flavorful, remarkable new novel. 'Funny awful' might be another one. I marveled at myself for enjoying the scenes I was witnessing, and wondered what dark magic the author had employed to make me smile at them ... Eileen could have stepped out of Flannery O'Connor or Shirley Jackson. Wonderfully horrible Humbert Humbert also comes to mind. Eileen may be 'unfit for the world,' but I was pulling for her. I wanted her to escape the prison of life with father, wished that her dreams of fleeing to New York might come true.
Marie NDiaye, Trans. by Jordan Stump
PositiveNPRWhen the knife falls — and it does, horribly — the daughter Ladivine plunges into a psychological labyrinth, elegantly evoked in all its horror by NDiaye. There is no happy ending for any of the characters; the only soul left unscathed is an unnamed brown dog that wanders like a ghost through the book ... In facing the bottomless sink of human existence, NDiaye demands of the reader the same clear-eyed courage that she employs crafting this haunting, disturbing novel.
RaveNPR...a brave and wondrous dream of a novel that renders the fraught subject of their relationship a fascinating, complex and ultimately extremely addictive tale ... This reader suffered acute discomfort that the book's particular romantic partners are master and slave, but history's discomforts have their attractions all the same. Thomas Jefferson gives us a piercingly intimate view of two people's entanglement, one that I totally fell into, wanting only to learn more. These lovers are not cardboard cutouts but deeply, engagingly human.
PositiveNPRSome of [Barker's] language becomes bruise-purple; readers might not want to hear quite so much sentiment along the lines of 'Nightmares crawled across each other like copulating toads.' It's no mean feat to match the horror of a historical experience with horrific language and not go over the top into fright-show territory. Often enough, Pat Barker walks this line with sensory-thick language; its sweep makes us truly appreciate life and death in a decimated landscape...
PositiveNPRIn The Summer Before the War, the novelist's attention to sensory detail is lovely, simple yet evocative ... The contrast between pastoral peace and the violent chaos of war is what gives this novel its heft.
RaveNPRI took away indelible images from High Mountains, enchanting and disturbing at the same time ... As whimsical as Martel's magic realism can be, grief informs every step of the book's three journeys. In the course of the novel we burrow ever further into the heart of an ape, pure and threatening at once, our precursor, ourselves. You must change your life.
Mary Louise Parker
PositiveNPRWriting a letter, of course, is itself a venerable art form. What could have been merely a trope or a trick becomes more than that by virtue of your sheer perspicacity, your willingness to wear your vulnerability on your sleeve, and some excellent, stylish writing. You can add to your resume, alongside outstanding actress, accomplished author.
Edmund de Waal
PositiveNPRA poetic memoir woven with copious amounts of engaging research, the book demonstrates the truism that an unexamined life is not worth living. Self-indulgent? Overlong? Perhaps. But De Waal digs deep into the substance of his life, and what he shares is precious.
PositiveNPRBlack Dragon River presents Ziegler as both an amiable traveling companion and formidably erudite professor, serving up well-spiced anthropology.
PositiveNPRTwo kinds of readers might exult over Geraldine Brooks's biblical epic about the life of King David, The Secret Chord. The first can cite chapter and verse of the Good Book. The second craves the resonance of the best historical fiction. Both will relish this new novel, which brings alive the Old Testament world of a thousand years before the Christian era.
PositiveNPRSchiff is very fine with the who, what, where and how of her subject. On the why of the complex business, she is more likely to fudge.