PositiveThe Washington PostShaggy but engrossing ... The bulk of the book consists of discursive anecdotes about the people Conover met and often befriended ... One of Conover’s strengths as a writer is that he is willing to let his subjects \'say their piece.\' He is wonderfully open to people’s understanding of themselves, even when he sees the world very differently ... Indeed, Conover seems reluctant to judge or theorize much about what he saw and heard in the San Luis Valley. Some might see this paucity of analysis as a problem with Cheap Land Colorado, and Conover to some degree invites the criticism. Early on, he suggests he was drawn to the prairie to answer big questions following the election of Donald Trump ... If understanding recent political shifts and the American mainstream was his goal, Conover fails spectacularly. But was that really his aim? Excise a few grandiose mission statements from this eye-opening book, and nothing is lost — and nothing seems to be missing. With his thorough and compassionate reportage, Conover conjures a vivid, mysterious subculture populated by men and women with riveting stories to tell.
PositiveThe Washington Post... luminous memoir about grieving, renewal and the twin consolations of friendship and cooking ... Sweetly illustrated ... a poignant sequel ... The two books are a gift to readers and cooks alike, although, for Risbridger’s sake, let’s hope that there are no additions to the bittersweet series anytime soon ... Risbridger’s recipes are discursive and poetic with suggestions for how we can savor even the cooking process itself more deeply ... Again and again she asks us to slow down and relish what is at hand, to look closely and lovingly at the beauty and wholeness of the quotidian ... Has anyone ever written such a lyrical tribute to Top Ramen? Is it perhaps a tad overripe? You can oversell the intoxicating wonders of the ordinary (or drab or difficult) and Risbridger sometimes does so...Likewise, the solace of small comforts can be exaggerated, as in an unreadable interlude about chicken soup...Her meandering three-page recipe for this magical elixir may test your tolerance for the twee...But these excesses do not spoil the book, which is, for the most part, wise and tender, a reminder that however gloomy your situation, the world abounds in beauty, should you choose to see it. You might be filled with dread, but there are birthday cakes to frost, friends to drink with, fish pies to bake
MixedThe Washington Post... part biography, part coffee table decor — that walks us briskly through the life and career of an extraordinary woman. If it never feels particularly \'intimate,\' that’s partly because Julia Morgan was a tough nut to crack, partly because Kastner seems reluctant to try ... Kastner doesn’t speculate even when the material almost begs for it ... The \'intimate\' life of a sexually abstinent, emotionally controlled, discreet workaholic isn’t one that keeps you turning the pages late into the night...The work itself is another story, and Kastner’s book is lavishly illustrated with Morgan’s delicate drawings and gorgeous finished creations
PositiveThe Washington PostIf you’re looking for detail on the career of the great character actor Stanley Tucci, you should probably pass on his lovely new memoir Taste: My Life Through Food ... This fusion of love and food is what gives Tucci’s book its sweetness. He writes of his family’s rituals with tenderness ... Reading this book will make you more attentive to the glorious – or modest – food on your table, and to the people with whom you are privileged to share it.
Shirley Jackson, Ed. by Laurence Jackson Hyman
PositiveThe Washington PostIt might come as a surprise to readers of Jackson’s crepuscular fiction that the letters here are mostly breezy and bright, full of droll anecdotes about her four children, driving lessons, many cats, merry overindulgence in cocktails, and endless attempts to lose weight...But tucked among these letters are a tiny handful that are so jarringly sad that they detonate on the page, hinting at the source of Jackson’s dark vision. They belie the jaunty persona she presented to most of her correspondents and illuminate the lengths she went to conceal her unhappiness. That many other American women of Jackson’s generation felt compelled to do the same, gives The Letters of Shirley Jackson deeper resonance ... What do we learn of the genesis of her most brilliant work? Surprisingly little ... The Journals of Shirley Jackson would have been a more painful and intimate book, but perhaps less revealing. The poignancy of Letters comes from the juxtaposition of Jackson’s jaunty social persona and the occasional searing glimpses of a profoundly vulnerable woman.
PositiveThe Washington PostA growing number of popular books promise to help us declutter our homes, making the case that emptying our closets and offloading knickknacks that don’t spark joy will improve our spirits and ultimately our lives. In her stern and wide-ranging new manifesto, Clutter: An Untidy History, journalist Jennifer Howard takes the anti-clutter message a step further. Howard argues that decluttering is not just a personally liberating ritual, but a moral imperative, a duty we owe both to our children and to the planet ... Howard’s description of its grave environmental harms constitutes a far more compelling argument against clutter than the risk of burdening the next generation with emptying our houses. For the record, my children agree.
MixedThe Washington Post... a sprint through everything — and I mean everything — that is bothering Generation X women ... a remarkably slender and breezy book, given the sheer quantity and variety of existential dread Calhoun has managed to funnel into its pages. If you aren’t having trouble sleeping already, you may start to after you’ve read a few chapters ... The anecdotal evidence Calhoun marshals for widespread Gen X unhappiness is abundant and depressing, if not scientific ... Reading Why We Can’t Sleep is like attending a party where the hostess didn’t want to leave anyone off the list: It’s noisy, crowded and everyone remains a stranger. And they’re all complaining. There are guests whose complaints we would benefit from hearing more about and others who shouldn’t be here at all ... The advice is common-sensical, a little corny and hardly a panacea for the multitude of problems she’s spent the previous 200 pages describing ... But the final chapter is the most accessible and engaging in the book. Calhoun’s ambitious wide-angle shot of Gen X midlife malaise is blurry and overwhelming. Paradoxically, when she zeroes in on a specific woman with a first and last name, a strong voice, and a textured backstory — herself — that larger picture starts to come into focus.
RaveEntertainment WeeklyIn a slim, sharp first novel, Blood Kin, South Africa-born writer Ceridwen Dovey approaches politics through sexuality, forcefully underlining the unsettling ways in which the two are linked ... Parables can be deadeningly vague. Although none of the characters have names, Dovey’s novel is refreshingly spiky and precise, its insights startling and original ... This is one fable that is short on general principles, long on hard-edged specifics.
MixedEntertainment WeeklyAmerica’s cherished immigrant narrative — that triumphal tale of striving and assimilation, of quaint old-world traditions giving way to the enticements of the new — gets a melancholy revision in Dinaw Mengestu’s understated first novel ... If there’s an underlying problem with the work, it’s that Mengestu keeps such tight control over his material that it can’t really breathe. Judith and Stephanos play their roles with subtlety and intelligence, but they always feel like just that: roles. The warmth that you sense lurks inside these people and within this impeccable book never completely emerges because Mengestu, like his characters, seems to be following a script.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"... scorching ... Women Talking is a wry, freewheeling novel of ideas that touches on the nature of evil, questions of free will, collective responsibility, cultural determinism and, above all, forgiveness ... [The womens\'] conversation is loose, unpredictable, occasionally profane and surprisingly funny ... By loosening the tongues of disenfranchised women and engaging them in substantive dialogue about their lives, Toews grants them agency they haven’t enjoyed in life. By refusing to focus on the crimes that launched this existential reappraisal, she treats them as dignified individuals rather than props in a voyeuristic entertainment. The only problem with this approach is that the grotesque and bizarre crime wave that launches the narrative remains all but unfathomable. It looms in the background, begging to be dramatized and explained. You don’t need an appetite for the salacious to want to know how a handful of men could rape dozens of women in a close-knit community, year after year, undetected. And you can appreciate this smart novel of ideas while also wanting to know how the women might have felt about this profound and intimate betrayal even before they started talking.\
Roberto Bolaño, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
PositiveEntertainment WeeklyTo be honest, I never would’ve persevered to the end of the late Roberto Bolaño’s sometimes wonderful, often maddening 577-page novel, The Savage Detectives, if I were not paid to do so ... Taking it all in requires stamina, but the novel bursts with marvelous stories, rude energy, and eccentric voices that ultimately reward your effort.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewDiana Evans’s third novel, Ordinary People, begins with a glamorous London bash celebrating the 2008 election of Barack Obama. It’s a dazzling opening scene studded with the sharp observations at which Evans excels, bringing to vivid life a capacious social world while simultaneously commenting on it ... Ordinary People doesn’t turn out to be the big, meaty social novel that the first pages promise, but a rambling, smallish drama of domesticity and its discontents ... Alas, readers may be less beguiled by [protagonist] Melissa, the linchpin of this novel, than the other characters seem to be ... Searching, dissatisfied women have traditionally made fascinating heroines because they’ve challenged stultifying cultural scripts. But the most intriguing character in Ordinary People isn’t Melissa, chafing at constraints and looking for someone to blame. It’s cleareyed Stephanie, who has surveyed the options, chosen her life and accepted its limitations. Initially, her \'aptitude for contentment\' seems less seductive and mysterious than Melissa’s restlessness. By the end of this novel, it seems far more so.
PositiveThe New York Times\"It’s as if Mangan couldn’t decide whether to write a homage to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or a sun-drenched novel of dissolute Westerners abroad in the tradition of Patricia Highsmith and Paul Bowles, so she tried to do both. She mostly succeeds ... [Mangan] knows all the notes to hit to create lush, sinister atmosphere and to prolong suspense. Unfortunately, she hits them all, and she hits them a little too hard. Both narrators periodically lapse into the language of academia, bluntly signaling how we should interpret the narrative rather than letting us figure it out for ourselves ... At times, Tangerine reads as if it were reverse-engineered from a scholarly paper about suspense fiction. Happily, you can write a satisfying, juicy thriller this way, if not a blazingly original one.\
MixedEntertainment WeeklyFrom a single corpse, Temple spins a complicated mystery that eventually encompasses racial tensions, scumbag cops, drugs, a grandstanding aborigine politician, stomach-turning sexual abuse, and rapacious developers … Flinty, funny, subtle, and smart, The Broken Shore sags under the burden of a few too many narrative complications and, like many a top-drawer mystery, collapses toward the end, as the haunting questions, so elegantly posed, are suddenly and a little awkwardly answered. But this is a hazard of the genre, and Temple ranks among its very best practitioners.
RaveThe Washington PostFood writing is often unrigorous, more emotional than cerebral. But Shapiro approaches her subject like a surgeon, analytical tools sharpened. The result is a collection of essays that are tough, elegant and fresh ... Shapiro has less success getting inside the pretty head of Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s mistress, but we probably aren’t missing much: Braun’s head appears to have been empty. Shapiro shows us a vapid, childlike woman who ate very little in order to stay slender ... a vibrant food culture has burgeoned, one that has spawned a rich body of literature to which What She Ate is just the latest addition.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
RaveNPRAmericanah is indeed a novel about being black in the 21st century — in America, Great Britain and Africa, while answering a want ad, choosing a lover, hailing a cab, eating collard greens, watching Barack Obama on television — but you could also call it a novel of immigration and dislocation, just about every page tinged with faint loneliness … The bulk of the novel unfolds in flashback, a long and vivid account of those 15 years of self-imposed exile, some of which were degrading and miserable, others happy and prosperous, all of which offer a thought-provoking perspective on American life.