PanThe Wall Street JournalScore-settling ... Repeat over-sharing is just one of the problems with Spare ... Aside from the explosive bits...Spare is a slog. It’s heavy on filler...and on anecdotes that would be of little entertainment value if the people involved didn’t happen to answer to Your Royal Highness ... Granted, there’s something to be said for getting a tour of a castle from someone who actually lived there ... But even the most dedicated royal watchers will weary of reading about daily life at Eton ... What may gall the reader most is the hypocrisy. Harry claims to want privacy, but there he is putting it all out there for Oprah, Anderson and others.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... quirky ... Ms. Smiley is a Balzac of the wide open spaces; her canvases tend toward the broad and well-populated. Though more modest in scale and scope than some of Ms. Smiley’s previous books (sometimes a bit too modest), A Dangerous Business still has plenty on its mind. It is, among other things, an affecting account of a young woman coming into her own ... for all of its offbeat charms and its welcome message of female empowerment 19th-century style, A Dangerous Business, at just over 200 pages, feels both too short and too long. The small-town milieu and period setting limit Eliza’s activities. Thus there are many accounts of her daily constitutionals up or down Franklin Street, Jefferson Street and Pearl Street. And there are many accounts of her visits to a restaurant known to the citizenry as the Bear. The menu doesn’t seem to change much, or perhaps Eliza is just partial to hotcakes ... A side plot about ghosts goes nowhere, and while the murder strand of the story starts off intriguingly and the tension builds as Eliza and Jean consider and eliminate suspects, its resolution feels rushed and unsatisfying—too much reader investment for too puny a payoff. Still, and this is no small thing, we have Eliza and Jean. Their pluck, their grit, most of all their ineffable belief in the power of books, make A Dangerous Business, matter.
PositiveAir Mail... winsome ... Bonneville is very good at conjuring the actor’s world in the hour, half-hour, and five minutes before the curtain goes up, and he’s equally skilled at capturing the tumultuousness of the rehearsal process ... But he truly shines at laying out the indignities that are part and parcel of a performer’s life, chief among them auditions ... There are some longueurs here, and readers might reasonably grouse that Bonneville spends far too much time on his vexing experiences in Hollywood working on a quickly canceled sitcom and not nearly enough on the Downton Abbey years. Still, he comes through with some candid and touching reminiscences of Maggie Smith and a hilarious account of a dinner with Shirley MacLaine soon after her arrival on set.
Mary Rodgers, Jesse Green
RaveAir Mail... delectable ... most compellingly, an account of a woman finding her power and her voice ... Mary puts it all out there ... has been expertly assembled by Jesse Green ... Less pleasing are the myriad annotations. While it’s useful to learn the particulars about, say, D. D. Ryan...Green sometimes comes off as the boorish guy who won’t let you finish telling a story because he’s sure he can tell it faster and funnier ... Never mind. Shy is wonderful, and so is the unassuming Rodgers.
PositiveWall Street JournalMs. Blair presents these and other shockers with a matter-of-factness that can be viewed as a coping strategy or as frustrating glibness ... Readers who are hoping for some dropped names won’t be disappointed ... Ms. Blair engages with her MS starkly and movingly...Still, Mean Baby is tough going. Some of the trouble can be put down to an abundance of \'look, Ma, I’m writing\' turns of phrase ... But much of the difficulty in Mean Baby comes from witnessing Ms. Blair’s ceaselessly bad decision-making ... To her great credit, Ms. Blair puts it all out there. And—God love her—she knows she’s no picnic.
PositiveWall Street JournalIn chapters that can be as terse as half a page, Left on Tenth chronicles a descent into the abyss and an arduous climb back up and out. Ms. Ephron writes with piercing acuity about her new identity—cancer patient—and its accoutrements ...It says everything good about Ms. Ephron that she has lots of friends, wonderful supportive friends. But since they are referred to only by their first names...they become a confusing tangle to the reader ... And charming though Delia’s and Peter’s email exchanges may be, we get a few too many of them in their entirety ... \'That is all I’ve aspired to,\' Ms. Ephron notes close to the end of her book. \'True friend and good writer.\' Done and done. Left on Tenth is the proof.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMany chapters in Foreverland feature an unmet expectation, a misunderstanding, a meltdown and an event that is likened to a bomb exploding ... Perhaps because of her day job as a dispenser of wise counsel, Ms. Havrilesky is well-versed in the minutiae of bad behavior, poor judgment and hurt feelings and very good at summoning words of encouragement and exhortation—sardonic, sympathetic, profane, stern, as needed ... Alas, Foreverland is on shaky ground with its very premise—that scenes from one marriage elucidate marriage in general, though some readers may welcome the chance to compare their relationship with the author’s. The opening chapter sets the pace for a parade of specious declarations along such lines ... It’s not precisely that Foreverland breaches some code of matrimonial omerta. Married people complain about their spouses all the time—to their friends, to their therapists, to strangers on a train. But they—we—know where to draw a line. The line is at phlegm and at publication. This isn’t clutch-my-pearls moralizing; this is manners ... Ms. Havrilesky seems to want to have it every which way: to highlight her husband’s leakages in the interests of full disclosure and rack up points for candor while labeling as \'holier-than-thou\' readers who would find fault with such tales out of school. It all makes Ms. Havrilesky a decidedly unsympathetic narrator. And it makes her as tedious—if not divinely—as marriage reportedly can be. For the record, she dedicates Foreverland to Bill. I can’t wait to read his book.
RaveWall Street JournalTerrific ... Whatever the subject matter—it ranges from saints to sisters to shopping—Ms. Patchett’s voice, equal parts, warm, wry and insightful, reels you in. There’s a freshness, an openness that never gets near over-sharing—and a humanity that never gets near sanctimony ... Fittingly for a novelist, Ms. Patchett has an unerring eye for detail ... And she has the ability to take a small incident...and spin it into a meditation, say, on gratitude for the people who care enough about us to hold onto the pieces of our past that we would otherwise, foolishly, toss.
PanThe Wall Street Journal... twisty—and twee ... There are many close calls (almost every chapter ends in a cliff-hanger), many references to Abraham Lincoln and Independence Day, and frequent invocations of the Count of Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers, perhaps as a way to give ballast to the novel’s Big Book bona fides ... The Lincoln Highway sags under the weight of these allusions and the expectations they raise. In fact, there’s no particular payoff to all that dropping of lofty names. Perhaps more to the point, the road-trip novel has been written many times before, and Mr. Towles, however much he hears America singing, doesn’t make it feel like a new song ... the shifting back and forth among the principals on matters of philosophy, ethics, magic tricks—and thesauruses—has the effect of diluting the narrative rather than enriching it ... readers of The Lincoln Highway may be excused for wondering: \'Are we there yet?\'
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIt is, in any case, a rather arduous journey—for the reader too. Ms. Stone can’t seem to do a good deed without heralding it as such, then pretends to play it down. There is much self-consciously spiritual talk about taking journeys and paths, trusting in the here and now, finding a way \'to succeed better\' ...The book is most compelling and assured as a portrait of the actress as a young striver ... Celebrity memoirs tend to run along predictable lines—a combination of score-settling, record-correcting, name-dropping, dirt-dishing and secret-telling. The Beauty of Living Twice follows this template up to a point ... Even when Ms. Stone is talking about another star, somehow it all ends up being about her ... To be fair, Ms. Stone has been an active social activist, has stood up for herself, demanded her due. You want to like her and for a page or two you do, because she is very good at being off-handedly charming and, really, she does have a fine sense of the ridiculous. But then she goes and tells you how hard she has worked, how much money she has raised, how much of value she has done, what a swell friend she is ... Granted, too, this is Ms. Stone’s book. She can say what she wants. But for all she tries to process what has befallen her, to speak from the heart, it often sounds like a performance, and the script tends toward grandiose incoherence.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMs. Miller has shown herself to be an expert and thoroughly nonjudgmental chronicler of domesticity, its joys and discontents. She pokes under the surface of marriages, lays bare secrets and dissatisfactions, exposes the desire to find an alternative life—or a different self ... The depiction of the McFarlanes’ home life—small detail by small detail—is the most resonant, most rewarding element of Monogamy ... Nothing else in the novel quite measures up—there’s too much telling, not enough showing—until the final pages. The subject and themes feel a bit too familiar, and Annie never feels fully realized as a character. That she’s a photographer—a competent one but by no means a great one—seems, if not quite incidental to the story, not as integrated as it should be. Graham, though certainly less sympathetic—particularly when viewed through the #MeToo lens—is a far more interesting creation (though it’s a safe bet that readers could do with far fewer mentions of his penis) ... It doesn’t help matters that “Monogamy” frequently veers off in puzzling directions. A sign heralding the performance of a celebrated cellist who was Annie’s childhood best friend sets off such a flight of recollections it seems certain that the musician is going to put in an appearance in the story. There’s no such payoff. Disquisitions on Sarah’s romance, on Frieda’s uneasy relationship with her French daughter-in-law, and on Lucas’s failure to bond with his infant daughter feel similarly aimless. A deus ex machina intervention involving a neighbor is just flat-out dopey ... Ms. Miller knows her milieu, and there are some piercingly affecting moments here, but readers who wish for more may feel a bit cheated by Monogamy.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMs. Tyler is especially good at making us feel for these loony lost souls, making us ache at all their blown opportunities for intimacy and connection even as—especially as—they’re shoved, however unwillingly, to a moment of reckoning ... doesn’t quite satisfy. While it shares the concern of Ms. Tyler’s best work, the story feels forced and hurried despite being lifted by Ms. Tyler’s customary and welcome style without a style ... Ms. Tyler has a gift for atomizing eccentric behavior ... the characters are either little more than the sum of their idiosyncrasies or mere foils for Micah ... Those who’d like to know how Micah came to be the way he is, why he avoids intimacy and embraces the traffic God, won’t get much help from Ms. Tyler, who now and then intrudes on the story as a rather baffled, rather exasperated commentator ... Alas, the ripped-from-the-pages-of-a-soap-opera-script plot is as thinly conceived as the characters ... It’s all a bit pat. The saving grace of Redhead by the Side of the Road is Ms. Tyler’s empathy, the empathy she has for her characters and the very high value she places on empathy.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... moving ... lyrical, sometimes astringent ... Mr. Lynch writes with grace and moral clarity about the quandaries and perplexities of life, and life’s end ... rambles here and there (the tale of the loathed feline comes to mind). It suffers, too, from repetitiveness. The last days and last rites of a beloved cousin are remembered in two different essays in almost identical phrasing and detail. Never mind. Mr Lynch’s richly flavored stories—about that cousin or about other assorted family members, like Grandma Lynch, the Catholic convert, observing Lent for the first time—don’t pall.
Kate Bolick, Carmen Maria Machado, Jane Smiley, and Jenny Zhang
MixedThe Wall Street JournalThese three essays zig and zag, often folding in on themselves. One can sympathize with the task set before Ms. Bolick and Ms. Machado: Meg and Beth, the least dynamic of the sisters, offer little scope for analysis. Ms. Bolick’s \'solution\' is to quote Virginia Woolf and tell an extended not-quite-relevant story about an unpleasant boss and an undependable male friend. Ms. Machado’s workaround, meanwhile, is to change the subject to Jo as frequently as possible. Ms. Zhang, who has the official Jo assignment, careers between postmodern chin-wagging and tut-tut judging of 19th-century mores through a 21st-century prism ... The essay that anchors this slim book, Jane Smiley’s fresh, sharp take on the much-maligned Amy, is a tonic—and a revelation.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... an assured first novel ... The fun—well, that’s in the reading of the novel, which nicely blends comedy with pathos and the sharp- with the soft-edged ... the strength of the book is in its unsentimental limning of the past, of dinner-table conversations, pillow talk, sisterly intrigues and alliances, of creaking floors and sheltering trees, of petty resentments and small rapprochements ... The Most Fun We Ever Had is long—really, a bit too long. The plot lines and complications are many—perhaps a bit too many. The cast is large (see above). But Ms. Lombardo manages to keep all the balls in the air.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"The Paragon Hotel is set a century ago, but its themes of social and cultural upheaval feel sufficiently fresh that you might think twice about calling Lyndsay Faye’s sixth novel historical fiction. But calling it terrific—not for a minute should you hesitate to do that ... While compelling, the two narratives in Hotel aren’t particularly complementary, and there are moments of dislocation and a need to re-orient as the action switches back and forth between coasts and plotlines, not to mention splendidly named characters ... The great strength of “The Paragon Hotel” is Ms. Faye’s voice—a blend of film noir and screwball comedy ... The jauntiness of the prose doesn’t hide the fact that Ms. Faye has serious business on her mind. At bottom, The Paragon Hotel is about identity and about family—those we’re born into and those we create.\
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"... [compared with Rooney\'s first novel, Normal Peopleequally witty and sure-footed second novel ... \"... [compared with Rooney\'s first novel, Normal People is] equally witty and sure-footed second novel ... what starts off as wry and bright turns into a complex, sometimes bleak, coming-of-age story ... Normal People manages to feel utterly up-to-date and a throwback to a more distant time ... Ms. Rooney gets it all. She understands messy emotions—another way of saying that she understands the particular, peculiar shape of love and longing. Readers may have a difficult time remembering the last time they felt so invested in a novel’s characters.\
Alice Sparberg Alexiou
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalA musical that opened on Broadway in late 1891 featured a song about a notorious stretch of Manhattan where, as the lyrics went, \'I had one of the devil’s own nights. . . . The Bowery! The Bowery! / They say such things and they do strange things.\' The ditty took America by storm, according to Devil’s Mile, an intermittently engaging cultural history of the Bowery by Alice Sparberg Alexiou, the author of a previous book about the Flatiron building. Fans snapped up the sheet music and danced to the song in dives and drawing rooms.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalShe’s baaaaack. That would be Kate Reddy ... wearier and, frankly, not much wiser ... Kate is closing in on 50 and has a whole new set of problems: a hostile, sexting 16-year-old daughter ... a jobless husband ... And then there is menopause, which in How Hard Can It Be? is less a condition than a character. Ms. Pearson spares not one eldritch detail, not one single hot flash. The reader gets the point quickly. The reader gets cross. Nonetheless, Ms. Pearson writes with great wit and verve. And the sections of the novel that deal with the care of an increasingly demented in-law are genuinely moving.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalSilicon Valley big cheese Shelley Stone, the hilariously single-minded protagonist of The Glitch...a mostly terrific satire ... has many a core principle. These include scheduling sex only when she and her husband are changing out of their clothes anyway. Because, really, where’s the pleasure in pleasure? ... The Glitch develops a glitch of its own toward the end. The previously sure-handed Ms. Cohen loses her grip on the narrative and, by sending Shelley on the road to redemption, loses faith in the appeal of an unlikable heroine.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe summer chronicled in The High Season is hell and, come to think of it, high water ... Ms. Blundell knows the territory ... Her account of Ruthie’s coming to grips with a career, a daughter and a community in flux is as touching as it is convincing. And watching her re-connect with a mensch from her past is a pleasure. Yes, it’s high time for a moratorium on chapters composed entirely of texts or emails, a device that seems designed to let middle-aged authors prove that they’re hip to the ways of the young’uns, but it’s a small matter. No bummer, for sure.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalSo expertly does first-time novelist Lillian Li conjure the Beijing Duck House...that readers of Number One Chinese Restaurant can almost taste its signature dish and feel the heat of its woks ... Number One Chinese Restaurant, by turns darkly funny and heartbreaking, is sometimes over-plotted, but Ms. Li brings her characters to vivid life.
PanThe Wall Street Journal\"Love and Ruin, a stew of biography and speculation, portrays him as a chauvinist and a bully of the first order. To know him was to love him. To know him better was to get over it. The novel’s prose is studded with cut-rate Hemingway terseness and labored similes ... It is clear that Ms. McLain wants to give Gellhorn her due...Love and Ruin roars to life at such moments, but even the high points are marred by what reads like the self-conscious musings of a schoolgirl’s diary.\
MixedThe Wall Street Journal...[an] eye-opening if often frustrating attempt to rescue Hillis from obscurity and to make the case for her as a proto-feminist ... Ms. Scutts, a postdoctoral fellow in women’s history at the New York Historical Society, is an assiduous researcher and makes some astute observations ... Far too frequently, though, the very, very wordy Ms. Scutts skitters off on tangents whose connection to the subject at hand is remote at best ... Rather more vexingly, The Extra Woman tells more than it shows.
Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda
PanThe Wall Street JournalA high point of the book is the back-and-forth between Mr. Miranda and Ron Chernow, whose biography of Hamilton was the inspiration for the show ... Hamilton is wonderful. Hamilton: The Revolution is not. Rather, it’s a self-promoting, inside-baseball bore that is best enjoyed by perfervid fans of the show ... The Hamilton libretto, which is marbled through the book’s text, makes up for a lot, and Mr. Miranda’s witty and illuminating annotations are a lovely bonus.