MixedThe Chicago Review of BooksThe prose of this novel is sparse and somewhat conversational, reflecting Lucien’s age and the bleakness of a Minnesota winter. We’re thrown into lengthy descriptions of dated technology and Christian meditation, but as someone unacquainted with either, I found the verbiage easy to navigate. The Land reads quickly, for a time ... The Land spreads itself thin with atmosphere, with paranoia, with characters that float in and out, with mysterious ravens that spill their carnage in the snow. But the plot propels itself, compelling readers to the end. And the discomfort lives on. 1999 was twenty-one years ago, but the threat of white supremacy unfortunately remains.
PositiveChicago Review of BooksThe Finisher is distinct in my mind due to its integration of technology, its multiple perspectives, and its banter between characters ... As a mystery itself, it’s quite compelling and demands to be read in a single, long sitting. Where it falters, though, is in some of its literary elements. Lovesey’s characters sometimes serve as plot elements rather than full-fledged people. One character, simply known as Jones, provides a vaguely deus ex machina role in the overall story. Narratives are picked up and set aside at whim and, at times, information is withheld a little too long to be seen as believable. Some plot threads feel unresolved, especially given the amount of time we’re given with the characters in question. Perhaps the greatest detractor here, however, is dialogue. Much of the novel is spent in banter, all pleasingly British and perhaps compelling to Lovesey’s longtime fans. As a new reader, I found it distracting. We’re held in meandering conversations for pages on end ... Despite the flaws in The Finisher, I came away impressed by the storytelling, the relative pace of the plot, and of the frequent twists and turns that made this a compelling read.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... clear, satisfying, and fruitful ... much to admire ... Close relationships between characters throb with passion, even when given little time to develop ... The novel is at its best in its quiet moments, when Djola and Awa’s narratives intertwine, and long-held emotions and confessions are brought to the forefront. In a war-torn landscape, with hardly a moment to breathe, these quiet moments are a place of refuge ... Where I, as a new fantasy reader, fell short was in understanding the details of the world as a whole. Many times I read a language or societal role, never quite internalized its significance, and found it come back over and over again and reminding me of my lack of understanding ... Hairston’s worldbuilding is complex, frequently layered, and to look for a simplistic, clean-cut magic system is to search fruitlessly ... While we’re frequently reminded of Xhalan Xhala, spell of all spells, its true significance and origins remain murky and difficult to interpret. Part of the overall confusion I attribute to my own lack of experience in new worlds. Yet I am left to wonder if the novel being so grand in scope could have focused more time in developing the characters and their relationships to one another. More moments of levity, to break from the tension. More frequent reminders of when all is lost, what these characters are ultimately living for. More moments of humanity ... at its core, Master of Poisons is a novel of folklore, of corruption, of both reclaiming tradition and starting anew, and honoring myriad voices in society (the powerful and marginalized). One can delight in the multifaceted worldbuilding, the many languages and threads of folklore, and the blending of the real world and the spirit world. For new fantasy readers, the novel is ultimately grounded in all too familiar themes, those of acceptance, survival, and justice. Themes we, especially those most marginalized in our communities, can recognize at once.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... breathes new life into these ideas with an entirely new cultural context, sharp humor, and several intriguing female leads ... Mukhopadhyay’s take on Gothic romance tropes is surprisingly fresh, in part due to its humor ... As a novella, The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die is succinct and colorful, barely discernible as a translation when it comes to pure prose. If anything, it cries out for more development. Here I acknowledge my own tastes as a reader, and my desire to see point of view characters balanced evenly. While Somlata’s narrative is well-developed and takes its time, Boshon’s narrative is somewhat limited. I found myself wanting more from her character, her intellectual pursuits, her reflections on how she was raised. Additionally, a longer length could’ve allowed for a more fleshed-out setting, sensory imagery, and other subtleties. But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this short, engaging story ... Nothing short of enjoyable.
MixedThe Chicago Review of Books... unfurls into a book of fairy tales, stories woven together by a few recurring characters and a pervasive prose style ... Swarup’s prose is both the novel’s highlight and what holds it back. On the plus side, there is no sensory detail or wisp of an idea that goes unexplored. Fully fleshed out are the movements of water, passage of time, presence of the mountains, and transfer of one life to another ... However, while this prose is spellbinding in small doses, it results in fatigue ... The narrative can feel weighed down by heavy, detailed prose, as well as deep introspection by each and every character. Additionally, the novel has few moments of levity, and can go many pages without dialogue. The dialogues featured are often philosophical musings on the movements of the world. The characters sometimes laugh, but we don’t often feel laughter. Moments of happiness are few and ephemeral, with the characters’ moods constantly changing like the planet itself ... In short, this is a novel I recommend in small, incremental pieces. To read it all at once may feel like a weight on your shoulders.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksWoven through the plain, direct prose of Beijing life and Jia Jia’s innermost thoughts are scenes in a ‘world of water’. Jia Jia finds herself submerged in darkness, the fish-man her only company, and each experience leaves her more puzzled than the last. These journeys, while beautifully written and evocative, are not what resonate with readers of Braised Pork. Rather, it is how this simple image of a mysterious fish-man forges relationships old and new, and how it bolsters Jia Jia’s sense of self ... what An Yu importantly brings to life is not only Jia Jia’s interior but, also, her societal context ... Aspects of the novel, at times, feel disjointed. Things are neither told in the order we expect nor do we get, many times, explanations for the questions we have. Jia Jia can be frustrating as a protagonist too, her life of privilege often making her blind to the cares and concerns of others ... Certain plot threads aren’t as neatly woven as we’d hope, though this may or may not be a detractor depending on your perspective. Characters come and go, as if mirroring Jia Jia’s blase attitudes. But the culmination of the novel, which I cannot spoil for you today, is all too rewarding. And even if we ourselves will never experience the world of water, much of Jia Jia’s journey will ring true. We all battle restrictions in one way or another, some of which the world places on us; but the most difficult ones remain those we place on ourselves.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksGiddings takes the distrust of her community and amplifies it, creating something wholly new and modern ... Giddings maintains a tight hold on us for much of the book. Her plainspoken yet detailed prose draws us close to Lena, allowing us to get to know Lena’s independent spirit and sharp observations ... Prose like this keeps us tightly wound, hanging on Gidding’s every word and Lena’s every move. We feel a paranoia unique to the digital age, censored searches and blocked websites, constantly being heard and watched. And eventually, when things spiral out of control and Giddings lets us go, we’re left reeling. Dizzy. We pick up some pieces but not all of them.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books... not a comforting book ... Doshi narrows our distance from Grace with a potent voice, present tense, crisp prose, and a limited cast of characters. Grace grapples with a number of internal conflicts, such as loneliness, aging, family relationships, lust, and womanhood. She jumps from one to the next without pause, and the result is a tightly constructed narrative in which her conflicts become our own. She is not likable, but understandable, almost painfully so. I read this book in a constant state of argument, recognizing a kinship with Grace while repudiating many of her choices ... challenges the maudlin perception of disability in popular media, sparing no detail in Grace’s struggles to care for her sister ... it speaks to the strength of the story itself that this setting does not overwhelm the novel and its characters. Rather, the story of Grace and Lucia could have taken place anywhere. Nowhere have the questions surrounding their lives been fully answered anyway ... speaks to those conflicts relatable to young, modern women of any country.