RaveLocus... a gorgeous little novella that robs me of anything meaningful to say, because I want only to luxuriate in its pleasures rather than offering a critical assessment ... haunting, meaningful, exquisite, like an antique, inlaid jewelry box with dangerously sharp edges ... This little book encompasses adventure, intrigue, love, murder, beauty, and even more. It’s magical ... Along with her fine ear for musical sentences, Vo has a gift for this kind of doled-out wisdom. It goes hand in hand with her gift for storytelling, the around-the-fire type. The layers of narration in this novella give us the sense that we are getting a long-lost true tale, passed from person to person, rather than a history coldly recorded by the victors ... This novella proves that small stories have enormous resonance.
Sarah J. Maas
MixedLocusThe beginning of this 800-pager is simply awful, rife with the kind of fantasist characterization and shoehorned exposition that teenagers write on the internet in anonymity. I was afraid of what I’d have to say in this space if the book had continued to be so bad as its initial eighth, but, thankfully, it got better. The problem of Maas really needing an editor to mitigate her worst habits did, however, continue. Her main character turns out to be a world-class Mary Sue, a kind of Swiss Army Knife of supernatural ability. Often, the reader’s inability to predict what comes next depends not on organic character and plot movements, but on the narrators keeping secrets from the reader. This is a cheap way to spice up the plot ... Further, Maas’s writing is not up to par ... Maas’s work is sort-of addictive ... While certain setups were so telegraphed that their conclusions were as meaningful as toast popping up when it’s done, others had satisfying payoffs. A handful of scenes felt so genuine that I read them twice, enjoying how conversations and characterization snaked around to emotional resolutions. And Maas knows how to write dialogue that crackles and snarks along as capably as Joss Whedon’s, which is a major asset. Still. On balance, House of Earth and Blood is not a terribly good book. It is ingenuous, and its characters are appealing, and its universe is complex enough to make for great cosplay and fanfic (key for its target audience). I enjoyed some of the reading experience, if not quite half of it.
C. L. Polk
PositiveLocusAlthough the book reads a little predictably, and attaches to its predecessor strongly enough to be difficult to understand at first, it’s a marvelously readable novel set in a fun world, mixing and matching elements from a variety of subgenres ... Grace has a lot of power, both political and magical. As a narrator, she’s engaging and sympathetic without being terribly distinct, which for many readers will be just right ... Walking the middle way like this makes for compelling conflict, but it also makes Grace seem overly conciliatory and a little bit cowardly. I detail this because the book’s parallels to our current political situation are unignorable: a climate crisis, a selfish national leader, a wealthy ruling class disconnected from day-to-day realities, and concentration of power among nepotistic relationships. In light of these parallels, Grace’s reluctance to choose a side feels less sympathetic ... Despite this heavy business running along below, the fantasy elements above are delightful ... an active, churning book, packed with dialogue and scenes, hardly stopping for a moment. The end result is a cracking read, if not a perfect book ... The biggest problem with Stormsong is its dependence on Witchmark. I read at least the first 50 pages without understanding much of what was going on ... Polk has assembled a compelling political context and a winning combination of elements on which to stage character dramas. Many avid readers look forward to finding out who she taps next for the central spot.
PositiveLocus... a good book, an angry book, a useful book. It drenches the reader in cold fire: fury and clarity at once, directed not at individuals but at the systems that make life unfair and treacherous for Black people in America. It wobbles a little when it must create and maintain the alternate near-future reality in which its characters abide – the excellent slipperiness of Tochi Onyebuchi’s storytelling means he can’t quite convince the reader that any concrete details are for real – but it remains firm when characterizing people, mood, and events of national significance ... The book performs like a loose collection of vignettes rather than a novel with a linear plot, and thus its novella length works in its favor. Nearly every scene is breathless, immediate; Onyebuchi’s sentences carry power and activity along with their atmosphere and insight ... Without tolerance for this kind of velocity, a reader will not enjoy Riot Baby. But without this kind of velocity, Riot Baby would not have the power it has to communicate accumulated Black anger ... a fiery fictional version of Between the World and Me: a chronicle of injustice, woven through with a deeply personal story about family and strength ... Sometimes the novel’s lyric runs cause confusion ... a phenomenal, explosive little novel, one that folks of all races ought to read and consider. In the widest view, Riot Baby speaks the truth of Black oppression and injustice; in the smallest view, it uses compression and craft to render the reader breathless.
PositiveBOMBHere’s a funky little book about nothing—not in the way Seinfeld was about nothing, but in the way that space is mostly nothing ... In truth, the essays that compose this collection are grouped mainly by virtue of their common author and her soaring intelligence. Their heterogeneity renders the reading experience a little bumpy, leaping as the topics do between widespread phenomena, such as fake news and the Falling Man of 9/11, and more specialized ones, like the poetry of Erin Mouré and George Oppen. Skibsrud is an impressive writer and thinker and this book, her seventh, collects her ideas for an array of audiences with different reading proclivities ... Skibsrud’s work considers ideas as large as time and death, and lingers gracefully on how literature knits with human life. Plenty of writers swimming among such big concepts have been lost at sea, but Skibsrud sails through with confidence ... remarkable insight, patient syntax, seamless quotation. And a bit of an uneasy truce between scholarly writing and general interest essays ... Its intent appears to be gathering up the loose change from a writer’s intellectual sofa cushions, and in this case, that’s a lot of wealth.
RaveNPR... an extraordinary collection of talent; each essay is distinct from the next (although some themes overlap), and each takes a slightly different approach to the art of creative nonfiction — whether the essays are braided, factual, or lyric. It\'s also an extremely well-timed book ... [Dancyger\'s] experience and sharp eye make this anthology a thorough exploration of its topic ... If nothing else, this anthology instructs the reader that American women are just now at the starting line of exploring and understanding their anger. It\'s a force that has barely been tapped. Burn It Down both diagnoses and analyzes the state of anger among American women, even if the book demonstrates that we have a long way to go to understand it fully.
MixedLocus... more depressing and upsetting than Margaret Atwood’s apocalyptica ... a scary book, at the macro, society-is-breaking-down level, but also at eye level. It’s also a deeply internal book, shored up with exceptional description, with spiraling thoughts and memories that take up entire chapters. Alice is a complex character, an introvert whose fears extend to the metaphysical ... It’s one of the most harrowing pieces of prose I have ever experienced. The body horror quotient of the book is already pretty high, because being sealed in by one’s own skin is pretty intense, but Booth’s description of birth evokes a degree of body horror even Cronenberg couldn’t touch ... The final pages of Sealed have a tiny degree of redemption, but it isn’t enough ... For so many reasons, it’s unforgettable (despite its weirdly forgettable title), but you will not find a more distressing read this year.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksWhite Flights is a faultlessly argued collection of essays about how whiteness dominates the American literary imagination ... If you are white and reading this review, and you are already interested in how racial issues intersect with contemporary literature, then buy this book, underline passages in it, assign it to your classes, use it as part of the continuing process of decolonizing your mind. But it’s also an ideal book, if a difficult pill, for those who do not believe decolonization is necessary ... Row is writing from and to whiteness, cajoling white readers and writers to understand whiteness as subjective. Not universal, or invisible, but loaded with meaning and harmful assumptions ... seven dense essays, each...builds to its purpose gradually, with dizzying complexity ... He writes with great specificity and fervor about how writing teachers at the MFA level perpetuate this dishonesty to generation after generation of literary writers.
PanLocusWhether Reed King’s FKA USA works for you is going to depend on who you are as a reader. To some extent, this is true of any book in the world, but it’s particularly true for this book, a sprawling, self-conscious novel of the American apocalypse inspired by equal parts David Foster Wallace and The Wizard of Oz. Some will find the reading experience exhilarating, while others will find it tiresome. Some will suspect that Reed King is punching way above his weight, while others won’t recognize (or care) that a heavier weight class exists. So it goes ... Even though the details are outlandish, the narrative is your basic group quest, and the journey has the usual encounters, setbacks, danger, and joy ... The same goes for the prose and characterization. There’s nothing terribly new or exciting there; the prose is clean and transparent, if unnecessarily vulgar, and the characters are well-delineated without having any motivations that disrupt the main purpose of propping up Truckee. Extensive, detailed footnotes line many of the pages, and the book has six fictional appendices. These quirks, plus the corporatism, plus the main character’s name, call back to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, but King is not nearly as skilled as Wallace at literary pretension, and King’s footnotes feel like unnecessary interruptions to proffer information we didn’t really need to know ... Occasionally, the book shows heart ... However, these moments are few and far between. For the most part, the book is snide, dirty, and hopeless ... is clearly intended as satire, in mood and style, but it is so reasonably apocalyptic, so painfully close to the bleakest projections of what the late-21st century will look like (if we survive), that the net effect is depressing ... Perhaps those who love Philip K. Dick, but want more jokes per capita, will have a ball with FKA USA, but those who are truly worried about the future of this planet, of this political system, of this very species, may find it hard to crack a smile.
PositiveLocusEvery character has at least a few good moments, but the book starts to feel like a literary scrapyard toward its end, full of pieces of stories rather than a smooth narrative. The story of the book is less an agile plot than it is a series of shifts in the lives of these characters. Key events occur, but how the characters absorb and react to these events makes the plot feel a little sparse. No matter. Turnbull’s writing is affecting and intelligent, dropping wisdom like cherry bombs ... The Lesson isn’t symmetrical or geometric, but messy, driven by decisions and relationships. That makes it much more human. The trouble with allegories is how circumscribed by purpose they often feel. Nothing that doesn’t fit the allegory can go in the book. The Lesson does not have that problem; its events occur organically, and the book’s nature comes clear only gradually ... In craft, The Lesson is hardly a perfect book. It has false starts (the opening makes it seem like a YA book), it juggles its many characters with less than ideal grace (Patrice, characterized inconsistently, has a convenient, low-stakes pregnancy), and its vague gestures to how the world beyond St. Thomas deals with the Ynaa’s existence are not enough to fully contexualize the event. But it’s a daring and thoughtful book, which is far better than a beautifully crafted snoozer. Moreover, it’s a book that presents racial issues and questions in a genuinely new way, which makes it a book that, I hope, will stand the test of time.
Christine Wunnike, Trans. by Philip Boehm
PanTor.com... a puzzling, unsettling book. It has the feel of a story told half-asleep, with clear details and vague overall effect. What begins in promising magical realism veers into surrealist historical fiction, leans toward medical interests, and is likely to leave most readers behind with that turn. Christine Wunnicke is certainly a daring international voice, but her crossover potential into mainstream fiction seems limited ... The novel loses all momentum associated with such passages as it goes forward ... opaque and meandering, difficult to follow or to trust ... That is not to suggest that it’s a bad book. The craftsmanship at work here isn’t user-friendly and is not intended to be, which makes it a fairly inaccessible book, but it has garnered glowing reviews all around the world. Sometimes, the prose takes flight unexpectedly ... However, for those whose reading interests lean toward clarity of plot and purpose, The Fox and Dr. Shimamura is not one to take home.
RaveThe Times Literary SupplementYelena Moskovich’s books defy summary ... They roam among time periods and groups of characters, loop back on themselves via reappearing objects and colours, and purposely blur the real, the unreal and the surreal ... She demonstrates a profound commitment to language, and undergirds a jazz-like approach to narrative with steely insight. Virtuoso is an unusual read, and a tantalizing specimen of Moskovich’s talent ... A novel like this might be fun to dissect, but it is much more compelling to soak Virtuoso up, like a patch of moss soaks up rain ... This is not a sensible novel. But in its attention to language, its ability to reveal detail with sharp, original turns of phrase, it is a hypnotic one ... Virtuoso is also a bold feminist novel: it contains a world of love and friendship between women in which men and boys are both indistinct and irrelevant ... a fully realized vision of a strange world.
PositiveThe Washington PostCandid, unapologetic ... In this thought-provoking account, Tobia shows how exposure to the world, and gentle, persistent expansion toward the femme, led to a self-knowledge of non-binary gender identity. The author writes with passion and candor, and what Tobia’s personal story lacks in drama, it makes up for in brash confessions ... Tobia narrates early, definitive incidents charmingly and wisely ... As narrator, Tobia is by turns snarky, self-centered, foul-mouthed, wildly intelligent, entertaining and, in places, grating. Sometimes the book dips into self-indulgence rather than self-study, and the word “glitter” appears so often that it might have served as a title. Still, Sissy is a valuable dispatch from a new generation of queer activists and artists — the first generation with the power to connect to themselves en masse without apology — and it would be a blessing if all such voices were as articulate and charismatic as this one.
G. Willow Wilson
RaveThe Arts FuseThe Bird King is an utterly lovely reading experience. It ensorcelled me completely. I don’t expect to read another book like it for many years, if ever ... four hundred pages of pure, genuine enchantment. I cried when The Bird King was over. The ending contained sorrow, but I was mostly upset because there was no more of the novel to read. I would have been satisfied to read this narrative for years. No summary, no quotes, no analysis of this book can communicate the all-encompassing pleasure of reading it, paragraph after paragraph, page after page. Read it, and treasure it.
PanVol. 1 BrooklynWhat I am saying with certainty: 1) Shields’s latest book is solipsistic, as nearly all of his books have been; 2) Shields is Shields’s project, unapologetically and (it seems) eternally. That is fine with me, because the results are so worthy. But because he is a man over age 50, 3) his solipsism leads to sexism in The Trouble with Men, in ways he either didn’t see or that didn’t bother him ... What bothers me about all this is how thoughtlessly Shields forged his book, how little he considered sex and power issues beyond what concerns white males. Shields’s initial assumption in writing the book, that the culture needs more commentary from white middle-aged men on sex and pornography, appalls me ... No writer alive is as restlessly honest as David Shields. Such honesty has inherent value. But this book centers men again and again and again on a topic on which men have already said plenty. He confesses imperfectly and yet epically, inflating his sense of how sex and power work to an attitude he believes to be definitive, when it isn’t ... If heterosexual men are hopelessly tangled in a sexual tug-of-war, and they have the muscular advantage, what of the women on the other end of the rope? Shields—perhaps inexcusably—has left that equation out of his book altogether.
PositiveThe Master\'s ReviewDespite the linear nature of time in the book, the stories feel circular, networked. The towns and nights blur together. Sometimes the show is pretty good, and other times it’s pretty bad, but it’s always the same show ... This sense of repetition is not wearying for the reader, but it deftly communicates the characters’ weariness ... A novel like this is about the people in it, and the multivocal narration of the troupe makes the book resemble its subject. Each new story is another act, another performer. But it’s a deeply sad book, full of heartbreak and injustice ... Allen’s work takes place at eye level, between people, not between societal forces ... she’s also a wonderful writer at the sentence level ... an unusual book on an unusual topic, and a fine fictional chronicle of a lost art.
Esme Weijun Wang
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books\"Esmé Weijun Wang’s new book of essays... warrants much of the hype and anticipation surrounding it ... Wang is a highly articulate and graceful essayist, and her insights, in both the clinical and general senses, are exceptional ... [Wang\'s] perspective in The Collected Schizophrenias is encyclopedic and prismatic even without taking into account how her primary mental illness may have fractured her identity ... [Wang] writes with clarity about how it feels when a psychotic episode descends upon her, an experience only a fraction of us will ever have ... These essays are mesmerizing and at times bittersweet ... The Collected Schizophrenias is a necessary addition to a relatively small body of literature, but it’s also, quite simply, a pleasure to read. The prose is so beautiful, and the recollection and description so vivid, that even if it were not mostly about an under-examined condition it would be easy to recommend.\
PositiveThe Guardian\"Despite minor flaws and a relatively small scope, however, Something Like Breathing is an auspicious work from a writer unusually skilled with language and subtext. It’s a sad, serious, beautiful novel worth diving into head first.\
Niviaq Korneliussen Trans. by Anna Halager
PanLos Angeles Review of Books\"Nuuk [successfully offers a glimpse into life in Greenland], yet aside from the lure of its provenance and a handful of charms it isn’t a very good novel ... The thin story amounts to nothing more gripping than early adulthood drama sparked by infidelity, the struggle with sexual identity, and ill-advised love affairs. The characters that wrestle with their behaviors are more interesting than those that don’t ... the characters’ voices are hardly differentiated, so the sections don’t feel discrete ... The book resembles television in its quick scene changes, its multi-camera approach, its low-stakes conflicts, its shallow epiphanies ... Last Night in Nuuk is not up to the task of fully delineating the Greenlandic character, of telling American audiences all they need to know about living in Nuuk. Not even for one night. Less a novel than a clutch of loose stories, it reads like a long project by an undergraduate with lots to say and even more to learn.\
PositiveThe Los Angeles ReviewAnne Boyer’s A Handbook of Disappointed Fate roams, and then rages, like a graceful and passionate animal in heat ... She has an opinion on almost anything, I wager; she offers so many of them here, across so many different contexts, that reading the book leaves the reader mentally worn out, ready for a bag of Cheetos and the shallowest sitcom possible. And she disburses all of it with the same crystalline, unerring language, the consistency of which forms the durable connective tissue of this collection ... Boyer knows her stuff—she footnotes dutifully—and presents a tone of insistent intellectual rigor throughout. But the enormous range of topics, and the speed with which she covers them (many essays are between three and five pages, some much shorter), make this collection feel chaotic, ill at ease with itself. Every sentence is stuffed with meaning, and the sentences build relentlessly. The poet’s gift for compression contributes to the buzz each essay sets up in the reader’s brain, but Boyer’s evident, blazing intelligence doesn’t hurt ... Boyer is also funny ... I’ll read this book, and read it, and read it, well into the future, again and again. But not too quickly.
MixedThe Arts FuseNone of the major characters in the novel are kind, or noble; none of them act out of motivations more virtuous than self-interest. For nearly 300 pages, they repeatedly and grotesquely collide with each other and with their own histories. As a reader, it may be difficult to look away ... Hobson’s achievement here is in setting up these personalities to entwine with and oppose each other so naturally ... This is a psychological novel, and it moves glacially, examining every motion and spoken word in exhaustive detail, drawing past injustices to the fore constantly. This isn’t a negative quality for some, but Summer Cannibals will infuriate readers with no interest in microscopic depictions of family dysfunction ... How willing the reader is to keep going through all this depends on her taste for melodrama. Hobson continues to ratchet the stakes upward ... By and large, the writing is well-tuned and graceful, if unadorned ... Also, the juiciness of this story, with its Gothic overtones and symbolism, keeps it engaging. However, the conclusion is a major misstep: the book simply ends, nearly epiphany-free, smothering out some of its fires but supplying more oxygen to others. Hobson offers little real closure.
Agnaes Desarthe, Trans. by Christiana Hills
RaveKenyon ReviewSuch philosophical exposition in a novel is uncommon, especially for a novel so short. But this is no ordinary novel ... Desarthe’s graceful and illuminating prose dances across the page, weaving one perspective with another, evoking common human experiences poetically ... Part of the credit for this lovely book is due to its translator, Christiana Hills. At certain points in the book, Desarthe gestures to a quality of the French language, and these moments must have been difficult to realize in English without awkwardness ... Desarthe has written a marvelously compressed work of fiction that nimbly reveals memorable characters, considers big issues thoughtfully, and even upends expectations about what supernaturally \'speaking\' animals will have to say. As such, she has created a minor miracle of a book.
PositiveThe Masters ReviewThe Blurry Years, a debut novel by Eleanor Kriseman, is the kind of coming-of-age tale that we need ... It’s also a deceptively simple novel. No fancy narrative tricks, no framing devices, no division of the action into distinct cinematic acts—just Callie’s story, as she lives it, in lean and attractive prose ... Kriseman distinguishes herself by making Florida rather despicable and exploitative, blinding its residents with thick heat and an empty sun ... Callie is a heroine to remember.
RaveChicago Review of Books...[an] extraoardinary new collection ... rich and satisfying from beginning to end. Full of humor, heart, and intelligence, the collection intersperses longer, fully realized and multi-strand essays with short, creatively formatted pieces: lists, diary entries, quizzes, letters, and bits of advice ... Coulter is an acrobatic writer, deftly juggling mood and verbiage ... The particular flavor of this book is not drinking while being a member of the upper-middle-class ... Although sober life is the spine of this collection, there is so much more to it than commentary on sobriety. Unlike other essay collections unified by a single topic, a full and colorful illustration emerges of the personality behind this book ... it specializes in hitting both the sternum and the funny bone at once.
Rave3:AM MagazineWhat separates a diary from a chronicle? ... I puzzled over this distinction many times as I read Elle Nash’s novel, Animals Eat Each Other, as I marvelled at its odd, wry chapter titles and the economy of its language, as I fretted over its obsession with obsession and the avoidable mistakes the narrator kept making ... the narrator also performs a great deal of psychological and practical analysis of the novel’s events, which keeps the narrative from meandering ... Rarely has self-harm been described with such clarity, but the tone is, let us say, not uplifting ... The more I revisited the book, the more I admired its care and intention. However, it’s hardly a book for everyone. The events and actions depicted in this novel are almost universally unpleasant, even repellent, and some readers may have difficulty feeling sympathy ... its emotional territory is enormous and largely unmapped ... expertly written.
Debra Jo Immergut
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksIt’s a rare writer who takes a chance on form in a genre as standardized as the psychological thriller, but that is what Debra Jo Immergut has done with her first book in 26 years... [Immergut is] daring by telling stories with distinctly un-masculine shapes in a well-established, highly masculine genre ... Not a word is out of place in The Captives. What a rare gift. If you’re a reader looking for a multidimensional thriller with exceptional characterization, watertight prose, and a wealth of uncomfortable, fascinating ideas about family and identity, Debra Jo Immergut has, at long last, written one for you.
RaveThe Arts FuseThe pleasures of Never Anyone But You are, like the narrative’s focal companionship, discreet, private, and totally immersive. Thomson is rendered nearly invisible next to the power and endurance of the relationship he’s writing about. And it is his consistent attentiveness to the interiors of these women and their lives that makes this such a lovely reading experience. He’s written the kind of book all incorrigible novel addicts will treasure.
Kirsten Imani Kasai
RaveThe Adroit Journal\"The volume of melodrama turns up gradually as the novel progresses, both in theme and in language, but the book is so absorbing that this insistent music is hard to criticize without a particular distaste for the genre. Gothic fiction and melodrama share a lot of the same geography; this Gothic novel sometimes tips the carriage as it rides, breakneck, over its emotional territory. But in return, the reader is gifted with prose ... The House of Erzulie privileges the spaces of dreams, imagination, and sexual ecstasy (oh, no, this novel is NSFW). It does not care much whether it’s taxing the reader’s patience, or straining her credulity, and at some point, the reader must stop caring about these elements, too. Kirsten Imani Kasai wants to take you for a tour of a particular house in New Orleans, and the best option is to accept her offered hand and go along, eyes open. I suggest you leave the lights on while reading.\
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of Books\"Belly Up jangles with the voices of other writers. Her fearless characterizations echo Jincy Willett; her stark, unsettling sentences evoke Joanna Ruocco; her crafting of a tautological biosphere that only contains the kind of people who would appear in her stories suggests Miranda July; and, for many reasons, her work calls to mind Guggenheim fellow Mary Gaitskill. Singing through this braid of whispers is Bullwinkel’s own confident voice, which displays a talent for compression staggering in a debut collection and proves that the prose belongs to her alone ... Bullwinkel appears to be on the side of language, but beyond that her loyalties are murky ... these stories, like Gaitskill’s, are extraordinary, mature, and complete. They also showcase a knack for killer first sentences ... It’s hard to find fault with such skillful sentences. Still, what would these stories sound like if they had heart? In Belly Up, a profound talent has manifested, one that is experimental in the best sense.\
RaveThe GuardianThe dialogue is so quick and multilayered as to take one’s breath away ... The powerlessness and fury of women find an outlet in their spoken protests, their pleas to be heard by idiotic doctors, husbands who cannot see their marriages unravelling. Zumas elucidates, in virtuosic prose, the struggle to be valued running like a power line under every incarnation of feminism. Her talent is electric. Get ready for a shock.