RaveBookPageThe complex seesaw of love and finances, both offered and withheld, is explored throughout seven chapters and across four continents. Silber’s device—a secondary character from one chapter commanding the narrative in the next—is as effortless as a dragonfly skimming over a pond. The multiple perspectives bring an unexpected cohesion to the novel’s diverse cast ... As more connections reveal themselves, the slim threads that bind these characters take on emotional weight, exposing the ways Gil’s infidelity has trickled out into the world. But Secrets of Happiness also explores the great generosity of love that exists in families, whether we’re born into them or choose them. Rarely is a novel of moral ideas so buoyant in spirit or so exquisitely crafted.
RaveBookpageAlyan, who is a family therapist as well as a poet and novelist, has a gift for depicting the knotty, messy but ultimately resilient bonds of family love. Though The Arsonists’ City lays bare how civil war and brutal violence impact a single family, it is the everyday, sometimes petty squabbles between husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child that make this novel both memorable and relatable.
Betina González, tr. Heather Cleary
PositiveBookPage[A] wild romp ... Note: There is some graphic animal cruelty here, so if you are sensitive to that, this is not your book ... The lively pace and absurdity of American Delirium could easily go off the rails, but González keeps a tight control over each of her characters even as they navigate their ever-stranger adventures. The novel is well served by translator Heather Cleary’s light touch, which allows for a certain amount of zaniness without sacrificing the plot or the well-defined characters.
PositiveBookPageDavid Hopen’s ambitious debut novel combines the religiously observant world of Chaim Potok’s books with the academic hothouse of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observations of the rich and privileged ... Though Hopen is tuned in to Aryeh’s toxic mix of advanced intellectual abilities and low self-esteem, the novel suffers from underdeveloped female characters who exist as unattainable objects rather than individuals with plans and dreams of their own ... Acknowledging these considerable shortcomings, The Orchard is still a suspenseful novel with a brisk pace and a surprising outcome ... a notable variation on the classic campus novel.
Meryem Alaoui, Trans. By Emma Ramadan
PositiveBookPageThe voice of North African novelist Meryem Alaoui is a welcome one ... a powerful character study ... follows a familiar rag-to-riches storyline, but Jmiaa’s unfaltering optimism will keep readers hooked. She is matter-of-fact about the day-to-day details of her profession, boasting of her ability to provide for her family and proudly defending the women who share the streets with her ... Alaoui is ably served by her translator, Emma Ramadan, who captures Jmiaa’s irreverent spirit and sass. A simple glossary at the end adds context to the shop names, local personalities and food that contribute to the richness of everyday details.
RaveBookPageDespite its focus on a single family, Transcendent Kingdom has an expansive scope that ranges into fresh, relevant territories—much like the title, which suggests a better world beyond the life we inhabit.
PositiveBookPage... an empathic exploration of family, connection and creativity ... It’s not the solving of the crime that moves the plot along—the discovery of Karel’s attacker is anticlimactic at best—but rather the quiet way Livesey explores the enduring and, in this case, elastic bonds of family love, even in the most stressful situations. Filled with detailed observation and a precisely delineated plot, The Boy in the Field will please readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories written with psychological precision and empathy.
RaveBookPage... a powerful and inventive novel ... seamlessly mixes realistic characters with the spiritual and supernatural. As much a literary thriller as a testament to Indigenous female empowerment and strength, Empire of Wild will excite readers with its rapid plot and move them with its dedication to the truths of the Métis community.
RaveBookPage... a powerful coming-of-age story like no other ... Ferrante’s ability to draw in her reader remains unparalleled, and the emotional story is well served by Ann Goldstein’s smooth and engaging translation. The novel simmers with overt rage toward parental deception, teachers’ expectations and society’s impossible ideals of beauty and behavior. For readers who are familiar with Ferrante’s work, there will be much that is recognizable ... But The Lying Life of Adults is very much its own story. Giovanna’s self-reliance and her efforts to become the kind of adult she has yet to meet will resonate with thoughtful readers.
RaveBookPageThere’s nothing like a great New York City novel, and praise be to...Lee Conell, whose exquisite debut gets to the heart of the city via the super of an Upper West Side co-op and his frustratingly underemployed daughter ... The Party Upstairs will make you laugh even as you grapple with how money defines many of its characters’ most significant choices. As chapters alternate between Ruby’s and Martin’s perspectives, Conell’s realistic dialogue and thoughtful plotting take us deep into the often unexpressed shame linked to financial uncertainty. The Party Upstairs is an on-the-nose, of-the-moment dark comedy that delves deep into issues of wealth, gender and privilege in the most iconic of American cities.
Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
PositiveBookPageÓlafsdóttir is an art historian and writer whose work is just beginning to receive the attention it deserves in the United States. This quietly moving tale of friendship and artistic fulfillment will appeal to readers of Elena Ferrante and Margaret Atwood, and the unusual setting offers an interesting twist on the portrait of an artist as a young woman.
PositiveBookPageThe voices of the women are especially strong ... Land ownership, religious observation and differing accounts of events all play their part in this clever, insightful novel that digs deeply into our country’s conflicted origins.
PositiveBookPageAn ambitious fable that...explores the human need to classify along with the narrowness of the human imagination. The townspeople’s urgent need to know just who and what Pew is appears shallow, even racist, when their level of care seems to ebb and flow with this information or lack of it. With creepy allusions to Shirley Jackson’s \'The Lottery\' and a timely exploration of gender’s mutability, Pew is provocative and suspenseful, a modern-day parable about how our fear of otherness stands in the way of our compassion.
RaveBookpageTold from an unusually close third-person perspective, The Mirror & the Light is lushly written, suspenseful even though you might know its outcome and has occasions of unexpected wry wit. This is the kind of storytelling that so completely transports you, you look up from a chapter not quite knowing where you are. Mantel has, quite simply, redefined historical fiction with this trilogy. Cromwell may be gone, but long live Hilary Mantel.
PositiveBookPage... smart, provocative ... short, absorbing and disturbingly funny. Its structure—quotations, lists, jokes, articles and emails mixed with Lizzie’s trenchant observations—echoes our current fragmented world and ever-shortening attention spans ... The title itself connoting climate conditions and the human ability to withstand and survive change, Weather feels both immediate and intimate, as Lizzie’s concerns become eerily close to our own.
RaveBookPage... ambitious ... As in earlier novels, McCann mixes history and fiction, shifting narrators, place and time into a seamless though sprawling whole ... McCann’s protagonists believe that if a country’s commitment to peace leads the way, the most complex politics will sort themselves out. Apeirogon makes space for this belief, a placeholder for a future where irreparable loss transforms violence, where grief leads to reconciliation.
RaveBookPageBriskly told and devilishly well-plotted ... Although strewn with emails, tweets, blogs and texts, Kiley Reid’s game-changing debut novel is rooted in classic dialogue-driven storytelling and is a marker for precisely where our culture is today ... hits every note just right—from Alix’s self-righteous frustration to Emira’s ambivalence about accepting help. What takes the book to the next level is its willingness to go beyond where the story naturally leads. This is a tale without a heroine or villain; instead it’s a clear-eyed look at the complex transactional relationship that exists between mothers and nannies, while never shying away from the tender closeness that often grows between babysitters and their charges ... Smart, witty and even a bit sly, this penetrating social commentary is also one of this year’s most readable novels.
RaveBook PageWritten with what readers can now see is Evans’ characteristic insight, humor and craftsmanship, [\'Virgins\'] is just one of the gems in a polished collection ... Evans takes as her subject people in transition: adolescents, children split between divorced parents, college graduates drifting between partners and jobs ... Moral ambiguity is explored beautifully in the best of these stories as well as the deeply felt moments of choice and regret. Evans is young to be so wise, but that youth is to the reader’s benefit; she is a writer we hope to be hearing from for a long time.
RaveBookPage... riveting ... Crummey has transformed this fragment into a richly fashioned story told with great sensitivity—one that is as credible as it is magical ... reminds us of all the reasons we read—to understand, to imagine, to find compassion and to witness the making of art.
RaveBookPageThese masterful tales impress, engage and occasionally infuriate as Smith brings her dazzling wit and acute sensitivity to bear. These stories are ready to grapple with the complex times we live in ... If anything serves this collection best, it’s the humor that runs through the stories like a lazy river. All genres are Smith’s to play with, from fables to science fiction to a realistic conversation between two friends. Even the few weaker efforts still brim with ideas and intelligence. No subjects are off-limits.
PositiveBookPage... [Woodson] combine[s] unique details of her characters’ lives with the sounds, sights and especially music of their surroundings, creating stories that are both deeply personal and remarkably universal ... Though Red at the Bone> lacks the cohesion of Woodson’s previous work, this lyrical, lightly told coming-of-age story is bound to satisfy.
PositiveBookPage...a boldly imaginative story of two characters bound together by their relationships to the dead ... Obreht mixes the fictional with the factual in the same effortless way she mixes the magical with the real, the beast with the human ... Though the novel could have benefited from some streamlining, the final chapter in which the paths of Nora and Lurie finally cross is a brilliant prose poem on the interrelationship between the living and the dead, between memory and loss.
RaveBookPageDominic Smith’s engaging new novel, The Electric Hotel, offers a deep dive into the history of early cinema ... the joy in The Electric Hotel is in the getting there: the travels from Paris to New York at the very birth of cinema, the repeated run-ins with a litigious Thomas Edison and Ballard’s return to Europe amid the scarring battlefields of World War I. Though an extended set piece in war-ravished Belgium feels like a slight misstep, the novel quickly gets back on track as Ballard and Embry plan for a rerelease of the restored classic. Smith skillfully blends film history with the adventures of his intriguing crew, never losing sight of their individuality. The Electric Hotel enchants with a compelling plot but satisfies with the fully felt pathos of its characters.
RaveBookPage...a sweeping tale of identity, gender and genius ... Her writing has a beautiful clarity, and the novel has an epic feel, sweeping between decades and continents without ever losing sight of the human lives at stake. This is a timely story about a woman searching for her identity in an inhospitable environment and emerging scarred but triumphant.
PositiveBookPageIn On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, [Vuong\'s] prose is richly poetic, and his references draw from a wide range of sources, from Roland Barthes to 50 Cent. The novel seems like part memoir, part epic poem, although at times the lyricism feels overly mannered and the associations strained ... Disarmingly frank, raw in subject matter but polished in style and language, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous reveals the strengths and limitations of human connection and the importance of speaking your truth.
PositiveBookPage\"The Flight Portfolio mixes historical fact with imaginative fiction. Though Skiff is an invention, Fry’s bisexuality is well documented, and Orringer makes use of the relationship to explore Fry’s sense of growing empathy and to highlight the moral issues inherent in deciding who is and who is not worth saving. Orringer is a meticulous researcher, and the novel’s cloak-and-dagger thrills keep the pace lively in this lengthy but intriguing tale of resilience and resistance.\
PositiveBookPage\"Though the story explores the ways adolescent experience reverberates through adulthood, it also brilliantly topples all expectations of narrative fiction ... It is not until the final pages of the novel’s short coda that another layer of events is uncovered and the complete picture falls into place. Or does it? Trust Exercise questions the very nature of fiction, and in a novel that depicts the fluctuating power dynamics between parents and students, students and teachers, and men and women, it suggests that the one who has the most power is the one who remains to tell the final version of the story. We trust novels to tell us a story exactly the way it happened, but fiction, Choi suggests, has its own rules.\
PositiveBookPageA timely and riveting family drama set in a desolate area of Queensland that will keep you guessing until the final pages ... With thoughtful regard for the impact of domestic violence, Harper keeps a sharp focus on a handful of characters that populate these enormous tracts of land where neighbors live up to three and four hours apart. As in her previous novels, the harsh environment plays a pivotal role, as significant as any of her characters. An unforgiving wasteland, the ranch is a place where isolation takes a long-simmering psychological toll, and everyone knows being out in the sun for too long could kill you.
RaveBookPage\"... Peter Heller has struck gold again with The River ... Masterfully paced and artfully told, The River is a page turner that demands the reader slow down and relish the sheer poetry of the language ... Though stories of man versus nature date back to the Odyssey, The River thrills as Heller invites his characters to confront their own mortality without losing sight of the deep connections between humans and their environment.\
RaveBookPage\"This well-drawn and absorbing character study bears all the hallmarks of Hadley’s best work: It’s perceptive, intelligent and written with astonishing emotional depth ... A master of interpersonal dynamics, Hadley captures the complexity of loss, grief and friendship with a clarity of vision that brings the natural and material worlds into sharp focus.\
PositiveBookPageCarefully paced ... filled with the rich details of rural medieval life, but the unique structure of the story gives the novel a fresh and modern sensibility. In addition, Oakham’s remoteness and parochial village church is contrasted with the spiritual changes coming to both England and the rest of Europe, bringing to mind contemporary issues such as Brexit and the refugee crisis ... Harvey, whose previous novels have been nominated for a range of prizes including the Man Booker, has written a densely packed historical novel that never seems dusty or precious, relishing in the psychological intricacies of power and faith but still crackling with suspense and intrigue.
PositiveBookPage...a lyric debut by a rising literary star ... The novel itself is written as a passionate letter to Laith from the imprisoned Jonathan, and is peppered with lyrics and phrases from notable Palestinian poets ... Informed by author Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s background in Arabic literature and social activism, both of which add passion and integrity to the story, Sadness Is a White Bird is part coming-of-age tale and part unblinking observation of a political situation that continues to defy solutions, treaties or agreements.
PositiveBookPageIn The Silence of the Girls, Briseis is the master of the narrative, telling her story in counterpoint to Achilles, becoming her own subject rather than his object. Her voice is wryly observant and wholly cognizant ... Barker’s retelling of some of the most famous events of the Iliad feels strangely relevant to today.
PositiveBookPage\"Transcription has its share of intrigues and secrets, but it also has a level of wit and poignancy that many espionage novels lack ... Based in part on archival records and period memoirs, Transcription is a rich, sometimes comic, always insightful peek at a unique aspect of British history. Learning about women who participated in the British Secret Service and the BBC is just icing on the cake.\
PositiveBookPageIt is a lyrical coming-of-age story that speaks to timely issues of police brutality and prejudice ... Despite its brevity, Brother delivers an epic impact. The novel is poetic without being sentimental and heartbreaking without being manipulative ... Chariandy has something vital to share about what occurs when young lives are cut down. As readers, it is our duty to listen.
RaveBookPageKate Christensen’s novels hit that sweet spot between beach read and literary fiction. With unsparing wit and an eye for sensuous detail ... The Last Cruise can be read as an analogy to our complex political present—the haves and have-nots divided on a floating world with a selfish wealthy owner that flies off as soon as disaster strikes. But it can also be enjoyed as a darkly humorous comedy of manners, with a diverse cast of characters and enough details about sex, food and drink to satisfy any reader.
Gaël Faye, Trans. by Sarah Ardizzone
RaveBookpageThe mass killings that took place in Rwanda in the spring of 1994 form the core of Gaël Faye’s Small Country, a miraculous story of before and after, of innocence shattered and of surviving the transformation of paradise into hell ... The end of childhood, the demands of family and the coming of war, all seen through the eyes of a young person, are told simply and soulfully in under 200 pages.
PositiveBookPageRebecca Makkai is a skilled and versatile writer whose work often contains a quietly comic edge. Her ambitious new novel, The Great Believers, is a change of pace, exploring the effects of the AIDS epidemic on the gay community in Chicago ... The Great Believers reminds us of the powerful connection between fiction and empathic imagination.
RaveBookPage...a cleverly constructed novel about love, obsession and revenge ... the novel pays homage to the great writer in Celt’s use of an unreliable narrator and a title that’s echoes one of Nabokov’s earlier novels. But the cunning plot and Celt’s singular, sparkling prose are very much her own.
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Jennifer Croft
PositiveBookPage\"Tokarczuk’s world, travel should always return you a little different from how you set out. Though the connections between sections can sometimes feel choppy, Tokarczuk’s voice comes through as both confident and confiding, often knowing and surprisingly witty, in Croft’s elegant translation. Though the novel might not be for everyone, Flights is a fine introduction to a major European author, especially for those interested in contemporary or experimental fiction.\
PositiveBookPageThe warmth that suffuses Sarah Winman’s new novel is pervasive ... Although sometimes lacking in characterization...Winman’s compassionate look at the fluidity of sexual identity, youthful passion and middle-aged regret is rich in emotion and proves that great things do come in small packages.
RaveBookPageMore than a coming-out novel (though it’s that, too), this debut is an insightful and entertaining love letter to the LGBTQ community in Portland, Oregon ... Though the story dips into the grim reality of homophobic hate crimes (Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard were both murdered in the ’90s), Stray City never loses its quirky point of view or Andy’s fresh perspective.
PositiveBookPage\"Happiness is a different kind of book [to The Devil That Danced on Water]—less dramatic, but with the delicacy and strength of a spider’s web. An understated but piercing narrative of great compassion, Happiness trades action for a thoughtful study of adaptability and the empathic bonds shared between humans and animals.\
RaveBookPageA deeply moving story about the complexity and pain of survival, it confirms Thien’s place as one of the most gifted novelists writing today … Thien explores the complexities of her characters and the intensity of their pain in prose that is both poetic and succinct. Janie and Hiroji are marvelous creations, and their friendship, which transcends their suffering, is movingly portrayed. This is a novel that is both heartbreaking and hopeful.
RaveBookPage...people are not so easily summed up in Joanna Cannon’s debut novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a gentle story about the damage done by the secrets we keep and the judgments we make ...opens in the mid-1970s in a suburban British housing estate called the Avenue, on a blisteringly hot summer day. The disappearance of a local woman, Mrs. Creasy, has residents on high alert, and the rumors are flying. Grace, a precocious 10-year-old, and her best friend, Tilly, decide to investigate ...told from the points of view of the innocent but perceptive Grace and six of her neighbors... The Avenue, with its flawed but sympathetic characters living chockablock on the suburban street, is Cannon’s most successful creation, and one in which her insight into the problems of ordinary people is most persuasive. Part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep presents our complicated world with compassion and humor, seen through a child’s eyes.
PositiveBookPageTeju Cole’s Open City follows the peripatetic ramblings of its narrator through the streets of New York City ... Julius is good company: erudite, clever, with a wide-reaching interest in almost everyone and everything. He seeks out new experiences and finds much to remark on ... As Open City continues, an air of sadness settles over the story ... Julius, who is hypersensitive to the traces time leaves behind in an urban landscape, is less attuned to the traces time leaves behind on people, who also bear marks left by prior experiences ...provides a mirror image of this earlier plot, as Julius looks for familiarity in cities not his own. Though more overtly fictional, it also expands upon Cole’s idea that the past is always with us.
RaveBookPage\"If the best speculative fiction offers up new ways to see our culture, then Naomi Alderman’s The Power is destined to be a classic ... Speculative fiction has long been a genre where gender roles can be explored—think of The Handmaid’s Tale or even back to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland. But Alderman goes beyond her predecessors with a narrative that wonders how long before absolute power corrupts absolutely. Alderman is both a novelist and a co-creator of a smartphone audio adventure app called Zombies, Run!, and it may be this expertise in the world of gaming that brings such a fearlessly creative approach to her storytelling. Both a page-turning thriller and timely exploration of gender roles, censorship and repressive political regimes, The Power is a must-read for today’s times.\
Jenny Erpenbeck, Trans. by Susan Bernofsky
RaveBookPageGo, Went, Gone (the title comes from verb conjugations written on a classroom wall) is about being woke — a contemporary idiom referring to how individuals become aware of what is happening in their community and, once cognizant, cannot lose that awareness ... There is something both stately and dramatic about the pace of this novel, which never loses sight of either the big issues or the smaller details. Ably translated by Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone addresses this yet-unresolved crisis with both elegance and urgency.
RaveBookPageDrabble’s characters have continued to age along with her, and she brings her attention (and her wit) to the quality of aging as experienced by a group of friends approaching their 80s in her latest novel (her 19th!), The Dark Flood Rises ...[a] mordant and thought-provoking work ... There is not much plot in The Dark Flood Rises. Friends meet, have drinks, exchange gossip ... Behind this web of aging and personal relationships, looming environmental and political disasters threaten to transform the only England she has ever known ... Though one might think resolution and clarity best reflect the aged creative mind, an equal argument can be made for tenacity, intractability and a certain comfort with contradiction, all of which are found in this novel. More witty than morbid, The Dark Flood Rises may not be for everyone, but this wise assessment of aging by one of England’s most respected writers deserves our readerly attention.