National Book Critics Circle board member and longtime All Things Considered commentator Marion Winik is the author of First Comes Love, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, Highs in the Low Fifties and many other books. She is a professor in the University of Baltimore MFA program in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts, writes a monthly column at BaltimoreFishbowl.com, and reviews books for People, Newsday, KirkusReview, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and others. She can be found on Twitter @marionwinik
RaveWashington PostInsanely fun, with fascinating characters, jaw-dropping plot twists and a hair-raising caper finale ... The story unfolds...with plenty of reverses and reveals that keep the momentum high ... When Mary finally blossoms into a real heroine, it\'s a well-earned and richly satisfying fictional moment ... Yes, The Foundling is a harrowing story of our sexist, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic past, with certain striking and depressing resemblances to the present day. It’s also a beach read. Bring your own sunglasses.
PositiveStar TribuneJefferson\'s...negotiation involves her intellectual past and present more than her life experiences ... Jefferson devotes most of her time considering the personal and cultural meaning of Black performers ... Despite all the brilliant cultural criticism, personal anecdotes...are my favorite part of the book and I wish there were more of them. As in Negroland, we get to see the sisters in their girlhood and coming of age, but almost nothing about their adult lives ... There\'s one amusing and interesting account of an affair with a man described as an \'Afro-Brazilan lover\' that only whets the appetite for more stories of this kind. Just a suggestion, Professor Jefferson. From a fan.
RaveThe Washington PostAs the investigation progresses, Krouse unfurls a storyline as compelling as any detective novel ... Without absolving the players for their actions, Krouse lays a steaming bag of blame at the doorstep of the coach and his organization ... As gifted as she is at listening, Krouse is equally good at telling a story. There are many memorable characters in Tell Me Everything—from the plus-size sex worker to the beady-eyed coach to the incomparable Mr. Fixit that is JD—but it’s Krouse’s own persona, with her supernatural powers, her supersize wounds, and her spiritual speedball of courage and vulnerability, that makes this book mesmerizing on every page.
Julia May Jonas
RaveThe Washington PostThe excitement begins on the cover, designed to drop jaws ... There’s no mistaking the subject of this novel, which is desire ... Jonas...is a playwright and professor at Skidmore College ... The intriguing titles of [her] plays — among them, \'We Used to Wear Bonnets & Get High All the Time\' and \'Untitled Zoo Story Project (Autosaved)\' — share the cleverness and current sensibility that infuse the novel ...The lightning-quick fantasy detours are an ongoing pleasure of the novel, one of the elements that makes you love the narrator despite her pesky streak of awfulness ... She has you in the palm of her hand at this point, and you are not going anywhere ... Jonas’s narrator is a work of art in herself, with at least one foot on the wrong side of #MeToo. You wouldn’t want to let that stop you.
RaveThe Washington Post... an engrossing and beautiful biography highlighted by Maier’s exceptional photographs ... To fill in the blanks of Maier’s life, Marks brought into play a panoply of talents: extraordinary sleuthing skills, intuition, resourcefulness and persistence; profound empathy; an astute visual aesthetic and highly developed powers of observation; and last but not least, a logical and lucid prose style ... And so now we have the whole story—or just about the whole story—of Vivian Maier ... Marks believes that although she never sought recognition in her lifetime, Maier would have thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected way her posthumous story has unfolded ... Now there’s another thing she would likely love—the astounding work Marks herself has done in creating this biography. You will surely close this excellent book feeling inspired.
RaveThe Washington Post... the lurid title doesn’t remotely capture the flavor of Faith Jones’s thoughtful, carefully recounted memoir. Not to imply the book is not disturbing. There are many images you will wish you could forget, and descriptions of sexual mores and practices that call into question basic human values. But there are no nuns, and Jones’s life was anything but chaste, though not by choice ... The author’s absorbing, meticulously detailed description of her early life with her eight siblings in Macau, and later episodes in Thailand, Hong Kong, the U.S. and Kazakhstan, recall both The Glass Castle and Educated. The extreme poverty, hard work and over-the-top physical punishment are balanced by a child’s-eye view of a fascinating, unfamiliar world ... this memoir has left me questioning humanity in some of the same ways as first-person accounts of the Holocaust. It is engrossing and well-crafted; it is shocking and at times, salacious; it is also seriously important.
RaveThe Star Tribune... packed with warm, funny stories offamily, friends, dogs, books and writing ... The mission of memoir is to bring back, at least on the page, lost loved ones, times past and places left behind, and Patchett brings to this reclamation project the abundant literary gifts that light up her nine novels. To that artisanship is added the electricity that only true stories have, the hot current of personal revelation and intimacy ... Patchett\'s is the perfect book for this time of year, an inspiration to recall and give thanks for the good we\'ve been given, even if some of it has long since gone away.
RaveThe Star Tribune... to run into an illness memoir that one would call \'delightful\' would seem to be a rare occurrence. Yet I just read... Smile ... Ruhl\'s explanation of celiac is a must-read if you don\'t understand how serious a problem this is, which most of us don\'t, associating it with some sort of trendy gluten-free diet ... Ruhl takes you with her on a journey that is as much spiritual as it is medical. All the smiles she was missing will likely land on your face. There is a wonderful list of sources and resources at the end, including theater, philosophy, music, medicine and more—reminding us how much richness is seamlessly integrated into the narrative without pretension ... an admirably light touch in describing adversity.
PositiveThe Washington Post... is in many ways intriguing and intellectually satisfying, but for fans of the Netflix series and for readers who prefer an exciting, plot-driven story presented in simple, straightforward prose, it may disappoint. Her biggest fans, on the other hand, the ones who read everything she writes, may be surprised to realize they have seen quite a bit of this story before ... She has also embraced a much more intellectual and philosophical approach to thinking about her life, reflected in a dramatically different prose style ... While Exodus, Revisited is nowhere near as crowd-friendly a cultural product as the Netflix series, it raises hard questions that are important to many people.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... lyricism and compassion ... Continually eliding the material and the ethereal, the political and the mystical, the poetry of words and the poetry of action, Harjo ends this iteration of her life story with a journey down the Amazon, a sighting of pink dolphins, and in the final pages, her mother\'s death. If her many fans could have their way, this will not be the last we hear of these things.
MixedThe Washington Post... only you, dear reader, can judge whether you will be able to enjoy this possibly sociopathic book ... The highlight of this aspect of the book is Lipman’s portrayal of Melania Trump ... Some aspects of the book are pretty lame, most having to do with writer Kirby Champion, who is just too much of a goofball, but this probably won’t wreck the book for you if indeed you are ready for it. Aw, get over it, you’ll be thinking about this too early/too late controversy . . . which means that you probably are getting there yourself. As in, over it. What a nice feeling.
RaveThe Star Tribune... calm, engaging and affecting without being devastating. The details of her abuse at a very young age by her stepfather are treated with a reasonable amount of delicacy, and like the cult classic The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch, which has a similar subject, the memoir is beautifully written and interestingly constructed ... Tell all the truth but tell it slant, said Emily Dickinson — another way of describing what Ouellette accomplishes here. All the truth, and many slants, like the angles of sun through the hours of a day.
RaveThe Star TribuneShortly after I started reading Brood, the debut novel from St. Paul writer Jackie Polzin, I dashed off a note to a poet friend who used to keep a flock of Rhode Island Reds in her backyard. You will love this book, I told her, the voice is wry and rare and old-fashioned in a good way, reminds me of E.B. White\'s essays about his farm. And so funny! ... the sprightliness of the voice had me so snowed that it took a while to realize that Brood is actually a story of unremitting loss ... Has anyone ever described chickens better than Jackie Polzin? It seems unlikely ... This little book was acquired by Doubleday in a two-day, nine-house bidding war, which is saying a lot for a skinny debut novel about raising chickens. But as Polzin points out, \'A chicken\'s life is full of magic. Lo and behold.\'
RaveThe Star TribuneShe tells [the story] in lucid and often pleasurably novelistic detail, based on years of research and interviews. The inclusion of family photos...adds even more emotional punch. Many readers will find themselves moved to tears in the culminating scenes, perfectly orchestrated by all that has come before ... Based on the statistics that Glaser cites, many readers will have a personal connection to this story, but a connection isn\'t required to be moved and enriched by reading it.
MixedThe Star TribuneThere\'s a girl they both love, there are mansions and swimming pools, alcoholics and adulterers, bigots and snobs, and most important, there are dark secrets warping hearts and lives. Despite this perfect list of ingredients, I didn\'t love The Fortunate Ones as much as I expected to ...The Gatsby-esque plot suggested by this comment — a tale of white men and their struggles — feels a bit dated in 2020. And while there are Black characters, they are primarily plot devices, as are the women ... The underdevelopment of characters is a sign of another problem with the book — an unusual one. It is too short. I think the reason my literary gaydar did not detect the closeted character is that the seeds are not adequately sown. Some of the biggest decisions the characters make didn\'t seem to flow from their personalities, at least as I understood them. And when the plot moved to San Miguel de Allende, it barely stayed a chapter. I enjoyed the writing, and I would have been happy to spend more time in Mexico, and in Nashville, too.
RaveThe Washington PostOwusu’s history gives her the authority to write about many identities with confidence ... Owusu makes this period of reckoning and high emotional drama the axis around which the rest of the book revolves. Dedicated to \'mad black women everywhere,\' bursting with flashbacks, flash-forwards, research-based asides, and returns to the Blue Chair, Aftershocks is all over the place. Which is exactly the identity it claims. Full of narrative risk and untrammeled lyricism, it fulfills the grieving author’s directive to herself: to construct a story that reconstructs her world.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe big girl is Majella O\'Neill; the small town, Ashybogey, Northern Ireland. Though both are a bit of a mess, I had so fallen for them by the end of Michelle Gallen\'s debut novel that I could hardly stand to leave them behind ... if Majella is the anti-Bridget Jones in every way, I found her just as endearing ... The sounds, smells, tastes and inexorable rhythms of the chipper are evoked with a hypnotic power that submerges the seemingly bigger plotlines — grandmother\'s death, the will, the missing family members — which seems to be just the way it works for Majella ... the Irish dialect is completely entrancing.
RaveThe Star TribuneWhite Ivy has it all—it’s a coming of age story, a love triangle rich in complications of race and class, and though it offers the pleasures of a literary novel such as complex characters and interesting writing, it also has the attractions of a psychological thriller: jaw-dropping plot twists and an unpredictable ending ... Yang has many more surprises...for both Ivy and the reader in this sharply observed and boldly imagined novel.
RaveThe Star TribuneWith one ludicrous event and wry observation after another, the stories are all the more enjoyable for their very datedness. ... Yet she was not known mainly as a humorist, and the other stories are generally about troubled relationships — as one of her characters observes, \'Marriage is like democracy — it doesn’t really work but it’s all we’ve been able to come up with.\' Often the characters’ frustrations and losses are balanced by the wonderful details of their locations — Italy, Greece, the Swiss Alps, Hong Kong, the Connecticut shore ... The woman is a genius of creating character with just a few physical details.
PositiveWashington PostIn the first four words of her debut memoir, Deborah Tannen makes the message of her book perfectly clear ... Finding My Father is indeed on the sentimental side, and Tannen’s many attempts to convey her father’s \'wry humor\' fall a bit flat ... Fortunately, Eli Tannen’s century-spanning Jewish American life is well worth reading about.
RaveThe Star Tribune... juicy goodness bursts from every page ... While continually acknowledging the importance of the church in the Black community, Philyaw sees the contradictions it creates with clarity, sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious ... This collection marks the emergence of a bona fide literary treasure. As one of Philyaw’s characters might say, praise the Lord.
Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, trans. by Michele Hutchison
MixedThe Star TribuneHaving just finished the book, I get the visceral and the shame. The tenderness and the salvation are more elusive ... The novel is narrated by 10-year-old Jas, whose attempt to accept and understand her brother’s death is the most relatable and lyrical aspect of the book ... Jas’ unique sensibility is responsible for both the most disgusting and most winning moments in the book ... Let us not go into the vile treatments offered by her father and brother, which she in turn administers to both a cow and to a visiting school friend. At other times, Jas is funny, endearing and wise beyond her years ... The world I live in has a lot of problems, but I could not see The Discomfort of Evening as social commentary. I’ll go back to the Zoom meeting, I swear, no more complaints from me.
RaveThe Washington PostFor those who are not new to the droll delights of Moore, this small, fat book with its slender gold ribbon bookmark...will be a treasure ... If you are new to Moore, it might be better to start with one of the original collections, as reading the stories for the first time in this setting blurs them a bit ... The effect recalls what they say about your dreams: Every character is actually you. In fact, Moore’s use of language is so exuberant and adroit that while I was reading this book, it seemed to me that other writers were either very lazy or not quite fluent in English ... Sharp insight into every kind of trouble—marital, medical, musical, veterinary—comes cloaked in irony, bedecked with wordplay, aphorisms sparkling. Like a nurse distracting you as she slips the needle into your flesh, Moore makes you forget for a moment the serious problem that occasions your meeting ... You’ll laugh, sure, but you’ll also feel profoundly understood.
PositiveThe Washington PostEmma Cline’s slim new story collection, Daddy, is like an appealing artisanal cocktail made with Campari: The vibrant presentation makes the bitter taste a surprise ... Cline again shows her skill at evoking Southern California settings and atmosphere ... I could not help feeling discouraged by the author’s coldness toward her male characters. Nonetheless, the book is so well-written — not to mention short — and just elusive enough that I find myself wanting to reread the stories, to think about them, to talk to someone about them.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn the hands of another writer, like Amy Sohn or Emma Straub, these bougie New York types might have been subject to a touch of satire. But Leavitt is not an ironist. She takes her characters and their troubles very seriously, more like Celeste Ng or Joshua Henkin. But there’s also a splash of near-magical realism, when Stella returns from her coma with a gift of creativity and insight that verges on the superhuman. A little touch of Alice Hoffman or Elizabeth Berg, you could say ... What I like best about Leavitt — her signature, perhaps — is her fearlessness with plot. I’ll take a good coma story with a miracle recovery anytime.
PositiveThe Star Tribune...[a] dark, smart comedy of manners ... For a reader in or facing the demographic of Wood’s three friends, “The Weekend” is both fascinating and chilling. Not just the question of superannuated friendships, but also past-prime careers, aging bodies, senior finances and calcifying personality traits are all fairly coldly examined here ... At the very beginning of the book, Jude considers what her married lover believes is the real reason most men don’t read fiction. \'They would be led to understanding themselves, and it scared the [expletive] out of them.\' Fortunately for Charlotte Wood, women readers are braver.
RaveThe Washington Post... readers who loved the Neapolitan novels will doubtless fall for this one, too, and will be happy to notice that the last line of the book can be interpreted as a hint of more to come ... Novels like The Lying Life of Adults do indeed contain wisdom, in this case insight into the wild drama of adolescence as seen through eyes of its protagonist. Giovanna is mesmerized and elated by her loss of innocence; Ferrante lets us both share the intensity of this formative experience and be amused by it. As in the Neapolitan novels, and in much of the best first-person fiction, the relationship between telling one’s life story and understanding oneself is central. As long as it is as well-told as Ferrante’s version, it is a story we never tire of.
PositiveThe Washington Post[I] hereby advise you to read at least four if not all six of Jane Austen’s novels before you attempt Cohen’s extended meditation on them, and do not try to get away with watching the movie versions. If you disobey me, the main thing you will take away from Cohen’s book is that you must read all of Jane Austen as soon as possible ... Among the myriad passionate readers of Austen, who seem to produce dozens of new books about her every year, Cohen occupies a special place ... Cohen writes with emotion and insight about her father and his death ... To my taste, there was a bit too much of the father and a bit too little of everything else ... I plan to go back to her Austen Years after I’ve put in mine.
RaveThe Star Tribune... a wonderfully readable series of essays ... The points Lalami makes are not new, but her perspective on them is unique, and the beautifully written personal stories she includes give Conditional Citizens a flair and warmth rare in a polemic about what’s wrong with America ... Like her innate globalism, the author’s perspective as a parent enriches her analysis ... This is Lalami’s first nonfiction book after four novels, one of them a National Book Award finalist, and it is exciting to hear her address the issues she has touched on in fiction with rigor and focus.
J. Courtney Sullivan
MixedThe Star TribuneIt’s a lot, it moves slowly, and Sullivan’s approach to social issues is earnest and predictable ... a bit toothless ... Richly textured relationships have been Sullivan’s strength since her debut, and even the minor characters in the large cast of \'friends and strangers\' assembled here show her sure hand.
PanThe Washington PostI wish I could say it lives up to my expectations. Some of the essays that seeded the book were extremely powerful. But I found myself desperately wishing that I was reading a novel so I could expect some kind of plot arc. There is none, unless you consider a head-spinning update in the last 10 pages a story line ... Despite the author’s skills at observation and phrasemaking, the narrative manages to ping-pong between the two most dangerous possibilities in memoir: boring on one side, TMI on the other ... Danler also struggles to be relatable ... Danler also manages to both overshare and withhold in a single paragraph ... As the book’s epigraph from Frank O’Hara says, \'Now I am quietly waiting for/ the catastrophe of my personality/ to seem beautiful again,/ and interesting, and modern.\' Perhaps Danler should have waited a bit longer. Now in her mid-30s, she seems to have entered an exciting new phase of life — the material in this book might have worked better as a series of flashbacks in a more shapely story. And maybe it would have been slightly less concerning and unseemly. If she had waited, the love affair with the Monster wouldn’t have the feeling of fresh gossip we shouldn’t be privy to, and her sense of what should and shouldn’t be included in the book might have been clearer ... Better yet, go back to fiction, where we need her and miss her.
MixedThe Washington PostWhile the truth-is-stranger-than fiction aspects of Wright’s thriller plot may not work as well in April 2020 as they might have at a more innocent time, his skill as a nonfiction writer shines through ... the most captivating parts of his novel are his explanations of science ... The tricky thing is that because this is fiction, you’re not sure where the research ends and the dark fantasy begins ... From a character-development and story-arc perspective, there are some dubious choices. The emotional core of the book has to do with the extended separation of a family due to travel shutdown. When they are suddenly back together with no reunion scene, I felt a bit cheated. And the ever-unfolding and very crazy backstory of the main character, microbiologist Dr. Henry Parsons, flattens, rather than deepens, his character. If you are a fan of the Dan Brown/Michael Crichton school of thriller, you might be more tolerant of that sort of thing than I am. In that case, you might enjoy this book. It’s a definite maybe.
RaveThe Washington PostAs readers of Moore’s fiction know, she is a brilliant storyteller and sentence-maker ... The latest addition to her oeuvre reminded me of everything I ever loved about her as a writer and now, as happens with certain memoirs, I feel like she is my friend — a very elegant, accomplished grande dame sort of friend, to be sure ... Moore’s voice on the page is sometimes reminiscent of one of her mentors, Joan Didion, in its spellbinding rhythms and effortless transition between the physical and the intellectual ... Stories like these are grounded in her unflappable narrative tone and her conviction, shared on the last page of the book, assessing her prospects at age 30, that \'it would be all right.\' Given the luminous literary career she had not yet even begun at that age, it seems to be so.
PositiveNewsdayIf you’re on a post-Parasite hunt for more South Korean culture, Frances Cha’s fascinating debut novel is just the ticket ... While the title seems to refer to these literal coveted faces, Cha’s portrait of her characters’ lives and connections is anything but superficial. There’s so much to delve into...If some plot lines are left unresolved, Cha’s point is not to provide fairy tale endings but to suggest that nothing is more essential and life-affirming than the connections between women.
RaveThe Star TribuneValentine, Elizabeth Wetmore’s fierce and brilliant debut novel...evokes the physicality of the place with a visceral power that recalls Cormac McCarthy, and sets out its cultural ambience and mores with the ironic clarity of Larry McMurtry. This literary landscape has been defined by men as surely as the reality it represents. Wetmore sweeps them to the sidelines, defiantly and confidently claiming West Texas for the women and girls ... Corinne’s husband, Potter, is one of a handful of detailed and sympathetic male characters in the book ... Wetmore’s portrait of Corinne’s grief is so vivid, so sad and funny and real, it could carry the book on its own ... Valentine joins the best Texas novels ever written.
RaveNewsday... affecting, enlightening and cutting-edge ... Nguyen...continually lightens the atmosphere with his wry humor ... Funny and sad, smart and wise, completely of the moment, this is a book you want to read.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn openly confronting the consequences of telling family stories — twice, after bad results the first time! — Fremont takes the reader along with her on the risky moon shot that is family memoir. With this eloquent guide, it is a difficult tour worth taking.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveNewsweekThe novel proceeds via a series of vignettes ... They gradually knit themselves into a single story in a way that will remind readers of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad ... The Glass Hotel plays out not just in real locations but in shadow worlds of fantasy and in the \'counterlives\' of the characters. Some of the satisfaction we might have gotten from seeing characters resolve their issues with one another is lessened when matters are taken care of by ghosts. This is a strange, ethereal, and very well-written book, so interesting it might actually take your mind off things for a while.
Isabel Allende, Trans. by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
RaveNewsday... full of the magic of storytelling. Sharply drawn, vibrant characters; a long-simmering, unlikely love story; ruthless plot twists, and a long waited, last-minute development — Allende deals the cards with a practiced hand and a narrative poker face. The specifics are rooted in events of the last century, but the theme could not be more timeless — and timely. This is a book about people tossed by fate into a country where they are not welcome, with their circumstances reduced and their gifts unappreciated, yet they replant themselves with open hearts, tenacity and optimism ... Allende imbues the experience of displaced people trying to find a new home with the dignity, idealism and even romance it has been stripped of in our cruel times.
PositiveThe Washington Post... there’s no tentative toe-testing. From page one, Keaton dives deep into a pool of regret about her relationship with her mentally ill younger brother, Randy Hall ... all of this — the openness about her failures with her brother, her negative reviews and gloomy diary entries, the sharp-edged analysis of her own appeal — seems not just a bid for relatability (perhaps just another way of saying human connection), but an exercise in the redemptive power of admitting weakness and error.
RaveThe Star TribuneThere have been many great books about the Vietnam War, from many different perspectives...But I have never before read one I would describe as quiet and graceful ... Yoon’s artfully orchestrated narrative illuminates this loudest, harshest, most chaotic of situations with restraint and elegance, finding and tracing an emotional thread that weaves the story into the reader’s heart ... This unique work of historical fiction could not be more timely, or more timeless.
RaveThe Star TribuneTo the blend of fact and fiction we expect from historical fiction, Sheila O’Connor’s experimental novel Evidence of V adds poetry and memoir, and arrives at a cohesive and moving portrait of the grandmother she never knew. The novel’s unusual approach to storytelling—\'Fragments, Facts and Fictions\'—comes to seem perfectly suited to its topic ... O’Connor builds a collage of imaginary vignettes and fascinating/horrifying historical documents that brings to life a lively, talented girl and her bitter fate ... In addition to the adult audience it deserves, I hope this book gets passed around by girls in and out of such places, its literary magic restoring to them their history.
PositiveThe Washington Post... unusual and transporting ... This is Alcott meets Shirley Jackson, with a splash of Margaret Atwood. It’s dark, quirky and even titillating, in a somewhat appalling way ... a series of creepy events and phenomena that balance on the edge between realism and ghost story.
PositiveNewsdayOur narrator...is definitely a failure in most other aspects of life, but one thing the man can do is tell a story. His looping narrative style, dropping big news in a single sentence, moving on, circling back, skipping away and returning later, seems as natural and conversational as can be.
PositiveThe Washington PostThis Is Pleasure, by Mary Gaitskill, a volume the size of a large cellphone or a slender gift book, seems perfectly poised to stir up a ruckus ... its content marks a transition in cultural mores, as it is a sympathetic fictional portrait, created by a woman, of a man who has been charged with #MeToo violations ... Mary Gaitskill...practically invented female sexual agency in her 1988 debut collection, Bad Behavior, with its grad student prostitutes and moody sadomasochism, is just the person to take on the task of questioning #MeToo’s harasser vs. victim scenarios in a fictional context ... Gaitskill’s book arrives as some women writers have begun to open the possibility of a #MeToo course correction — one that allows for a more nuanced look at sexual trespasses ... Whether you agree or disagree, it is time to have these conversations, to explore the nuances, to decide whether we have gone too far. Maybe that’s why This Is Pleasure has been packaged as a gift book. Give it to someone you want to talk to.
RaveThe Star TribuneThis vital book, full of intelligence and brio, is a must-read for anyone who has mental illness issues somewhere in their life — i.e., everyone ... though some questions remain unanswered, Cahalan crowns the work with a conclusion that offers chilling data about the credibility of research in all fields of science — yet finds a ray of hope for the benighted field of psychiatry.
Kate Elizabeth Russell
PositiveNewsdayKaren Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, is a dishy, dark, distracting work of commercial fiction — and an important addition to the literature of #metoo ... It’s still kind of amazing that #metoo ever happened, that as a society, we have finally been able to admit the invidiousness of the sexual power dynamic that runs all through our culture and lives. Nothing looks the same anymore. We’ll probably be reading other revisions of the Lolita\" story, but My Dark Vanessa is a great place to start.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... high-end chick lit. This isn’t an insult to Evaristo’s novel — to me, chick lit comprises heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their protagonists, appealing mainly to women readers ... But wait. How can a book that is written in a hybrid of poetry and prose fit into a popular-fiction category? Though Evaristo uses nonstandard punctuation and capitalization, her language is airy, straightforward and completely digestible on one reading ... clever, breezy and fun ... includes harrowing elements such as a gang rape and an infant ripped away from its mother — though it felt like these were passed over rather quickly. Fewer characters might have been a good idea, but Evaristo is determined not to leave anyone or anything out ... Bernardine Evaristo is here to turn on the lights, give you your money’s worth, and let you decide for yourself.
RaveNewsdayOne of the most important functions of literature is to cheer you up when life is hard...When you need an escape from the tsuris, pick up Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson\'s deadpan, hilarious modern fairy tale complete with impoverished heroine, cruel princess and neglected children with magical powers ... The possibility of children bursting into flames doesn’t seem all that distant from the terrors of real-life parenting. Kids’ chaotic, unbounded emotions, their ability to hurt themselves and others, their propensity for wrecking the house — it’s a metaphor with legs ... You’ll close the covers with a smile.
RaveNewsdayThis is a thrilling page-turner, filled with clever world-building and razor wit ... your best bet is to read the book, fast. I also listened to a couple of hours of the audio—it’s excellent[.]
RaveNewsdayMorgenstern nests a glittering trove of meta-narratives, myths, folkloric fables within a main storyline about a hero’s quest ... Morgenstern’s wry sense of humor and clever writing light the way through the maze ... As Zachary puts it, reading a novel is like \'playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game.\' Erin Morgenstern, for example, is very, very good at it.
RaveNewsdayReading her is like hanging out with the cool kids. ... There is historical fiction, magical realism, dystopian/speculative fiction and autofiction; there are political fables, humor pieces and stories that fall into none of these categories ... Smith’s tragedies are balanced by her comedies, among which \'Escape From New York\' is foremost ... I could go on, but I’d rather you just read the book.
RaveNewsdayHer secondary cast gives Attenberg a chance to dwell on other aspects of human nature, opportunities for humor, and more access to the New Orleans setting ... Attenberg is on a roll. Her last book, All Grown Up, about a happily single woman in New York, was my favorite of her novels, and now All This Could Be Yours has nabbed its title. Its combination of ambitious scope and economical treatment, its spirit of unsentimental generosity, recall the divine Grace Paley, a comparison Attenberg has inspired more than once.
RaveNewsday... a journey rarely taken in fiction, and is involving and moving ... Strout’s development of Olive’s character in this period of her life, her losses and her small compensatory moments, feels fresh. I have not read about these experiences before, or at least not with so much personality and feeling.
RaveThe Washington Post... manages to be both elegant and trashy at the same time, elevating 40-year-old gossip to an art form. To situate her on the \'Mommie Dearest\' scale, Brodeur combines the you’re-not-gonna-believe-this outrage of a Sean Wilsey with the high-test filial devotion of a Mary Karr ... Self-dramatizing tendencies may have been a problem for Malabar, but they work beautifully in Brodeur’s memoir, making a glittering, insightful page-turner of the worst-case scenario of mother-daughter boundary issues.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneJacqueline Woodson’s third adult novel, Red at the Bone, is a rare bird indeed ... A miracle of compressions, it demands and rewards close attention ... Full of tragedy and triumph, loss and discovery, poetry and music, Woodson’s slim volume contains multitudes.
MixedNewsdayMoody eloquently documents the ordeal of in vitro fertilization, particularly the male side of it ... Similarly, those who have had to deal with extremely entitled neighbors, those who have watched a beloved person descend into senility, those who have seen their guitar for sale on eBay: all may find comfort here ... There are some annoying things about this book, to be sure. Moody has numerous talented and well-known friends, and there is nothing he loves more than to name them and sing their praises. At the top of the list is his wife, who entered his life after a bad first marriage and a long series of hookups. He truly cannot shut up about her. There are moments when this is touching and inspiring and others when it is just too much. The peak of the too-muchness comes in a three-page section where he analyzes their artistic influences on each other. This should have been left for someone’s doctoral dissertation, preferably someone other than the author ... Moody was brave to venture into these waters again, but according to the epilogue, trouble made him do it. And while it’s not likely that The Long Accomplishment will join the all-stars mentioned above, it is a worthy addition to this year’s crop of woe catalogs. May it help us all avoid trouble next time it comes around.
PositiveNewsdayThe fact that all [the characters] sound like Marcy Dermansky seems like part of the joke ... Is Very Nice Dermansky\'s best yet? I\'m still reserving that honor for The Red Car. But if you are looking for a smart yet wacky summer diversion, a sendup of PC pretensions, a book that will make you both laugh and gasp out loud, dive between the enticing aqua covers of Very Nice. Then swim on into the backlist.
RaveNewsday...heartwarming ... Though I admired The Underground Railroad, it didn’t come close to involving my emotions in the way The Nickel Boys has. Where that novel had the heady contrivances of magical realism, this one has the hot breath of a true story. It also has a beautiful, unforgettable young hero who walks right off the page into your heart ... The Nickel Boys has the appealing shape of a classic coming-of-age story ... If you have been thinking you should read Colson Whitehead, The Nickel Boys is the perfect place to start.
PositiveNewsday... [will] appeal to those who don\'t usually read science fiction. There\'s also plenty of science for the faithful fans of the genre ... As a non-sci-fi reader, I found pleasure in Swyler\'s writing as well as her story.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerErica Swyler’s Light from Other Stars...[will] appeal to those who don’t usually read science fiction. There’s also plenty of science for faithful fans of the genre ... As a non-sci-fi reader, I found pleasure in Swyler’s writing as well as her story ... Only a writer like Swyler, one who understands the human heart as well as she understands entropy and space travel, can write a book like Light from Other Stars—science fiction for the rest of us.
RaveNewsdayWith cleverness and imagination, vivid historical detail and great heart ... Myla Goldberg ... has reemerged [from her publishing hiatus] with a stunning success, what feels like the book she was always meant to write. I certainly felt like it was the book I was meant to read—the first novel that has brought me to tears in a long time, out of the intensity of my involvement with its characters and concern ... By the time I finished this book, Lillian Preston seemed as real to me as any [feminist artist of the past], and I will remember her as long. Through its intense focus on a series of photographs, a group of quirky characters and a particular time in our cultural history, Feast Your Eyes becomes a universal and profound story of love and loss.
PositiveNewsdayIf books were people, Susan Choi\'s Trust Exercise is the type that starts out as your new best friend — magnetic, intelligent, attractive, fun-loving. But as you get deeper into the relationship, you realize how tightly wound, complicated and possibly untrustworthy she really is ... Though it\'s not as much of a thought experiment as Lisa Halliday\'s recent Asymmetry, its narrative switchbacks are similarly fun for the reader, making you think harder than usual and re-evaluate what you\'ve already read ... As experienced readers of Choi know, her writing about sex is powerful and immediate, sometimes sexy and sometimes uncomfortable. Throughout the book, Choi\'s depiction of the thinking and behavior of young women, not unlike Curtis Sittenfeld\'s, is both empathetic and merciless — much like the young women themselves ... this is a book you will very much want to discuss with other readers.
PanNewsday\"If books were people, Ann Beattie\'s A Wonderful Stroke of Luck... would be a friend that has dazzled you for years with her sharp observations and dry wit — so you try hard to find something to enjoy in this shapeless story she now seems set on telling ... There is not a shred of dramatic tension, despite guest appearances by 9/11 and AIDS, and Beattie just doesn\'t get her young millennials right ... It seems certain that Beattie could write a better book if she focused on her own cohort, the people she spent most of her career observing. She knew exactly what she was talking about it, and she said it in a way we had not heard before. I would love to hear what she thinks of us now.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"From its first sentence, The Other Americans, the fourth work of fiction from Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami, grabs the reader with its directness and urgency ... In short chapters that accumulate like episodes of a true crime podcast, a tightening circle of characters share their perspectives ... The ending of a book like this can fail in many ways. Lalami avoids all of the pitfalls, answering most but not all of the questions in the reader\'s mind, and quietly delivering the only answer to the terrible divisions, prejudices and misunderstandings that fuel her plot.\
PositiveNewsday\"Instead of lingering on heartbreaking stories about the victims, Cullen offers detailed portraits of the movers and shakers of [March For Our Lives] ... Cullen\'s intentional curtailing of emotional intensity — plus the brevity of the window into the kids\' lives — work against [the book]. Even so, Parkland is an unexpectedly lively chronicle with a powerful message.\
PositiveThe Star TribuneGood news for readers who love coming-of-age stories and don’t mind their fiction soaked in drugs: Northern Lights...might be described as a cross between two of the greats in those categories: The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, and Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson ... The writing is completely straightforward, more Hinton than Johnson. And like Hinton’s narrator, Strom’s character is soft and innocent when we meet him but is sucked into a gritty environment and transformed by it ... The series of disasters, chase scenes and shootouts at the ending of the book is a bit amateurish—I thought again of The Outsiders— but Shane Stephenson is a keeper.
PositiveNewsday\"The potent melodrama of Dare Me is amped up, page after page, by the rhythm, imagery and portent of Abbott\'s language ... Abbott\'s take on the culture of young women is chilling and knowing, lingering on the edge between reality and sensationalism...\
PositiveNewsday\"... the book is filled with highly caffeinated badass riffs on Manhattan\'s scenery and soul, on feminism and art, on Lucy\'s generation, and on basketball itself ... After all the books we\'ve read about horny, frustrated adolescent boys, it\'s nice to get a different perspective.\
PositiveNewsday\"Even in descriptions of more painful activities, there\'s something Joni Mitchell-esque about the lyrical, emotional tone of the prose ... By definition, a dystopian novel can\'t really have a happy ending. But Mackintosh\'s profound faith in sisterhood imbues her particular dark vision with beauty and a kind of hope.\
PositiveUSA Today\"... Dani Shapiro can tell this story like no one else could ... [Shapiro is] an excellent writer, and though the book is at times a little melodramatic, it\'s smart, psychologically astute and not afraid to tell it like it is ... [Shapiro] knew she had a great story on her hands. And she was right.\
PositiveNewsday\"So much excellent writing about and so many wonderful claims for bowling appear in the book that one would not be surprised if its publication produces a spike in alley revenues ... Reading Elizabeth McCracken — the gorgeously-put-together sentences parading the pages like models on a Paris runway; the crazy, original insights; the definitive, wholly fictional pronouncements — is like going on an automotive safari ... the novel is a shaggy dog story within a shaggy dog story within a shaggy dog story. I never felt all that invested in the plot, but I could not stop reading, either, just to see what the heck she would think of next ... So back to the story. I don\'t mean to say nothing happens ... there\'s an unexpectedly sweet feeling of sorrowful closure when it all winds up. Still, I was in it for the ride, not the destination.\
PositiveUSA TodayHow about a nice slice of cake? Caramel, maybe? Or yellow, with milk chocolate buttercream frosting? The characters in Elizabeth Berg\'s new novel, Night of Miracles, frequently sit down to lovingly described treats fresh from the oven. Lucille Howard, 88, is a master baker and baking teacher who begins every class with samples served on a cut-crystal pedestal. Lucille was introduced in the first volume of Berg\'s Mason, Missouri, series, The Story of Arthur Truluv, as a lifelong spinster who is given one brief chance at true love. In this second installment, she\'s alone again, but only for a moment, as her fate entwines with Lincoln, the little boy whose family buys the house next door, and Iris, a childless divorcee who has just moved to town from Boston. ... As the endearing, odd-lot characters of Mason, Missouri, coalesce into new families, dessert is served: a plateful of chocolate-and-vanilla pinwheel cookies for the soul.
RaveNewsday\"Right from the start, I was surprised and swept up by the storytelling ... I had already abandoned my reservations about Becoming when I reached what I will call the good part. The story she tells her about relationship with Barack Obama is like a mini romance novel ... I felt the writing was so strong and the heartstring-pulling so adept that I skipped ahead to the Acknowledgments looking for a paean to her English teacher or other evidence of a creative writing past ... Unlike Hillary [Clinton], Michelle [Obama] knows partisan politics are boring — the story doesn\'t even get to Washington, D.C., until page 280; the whole second term gets just a few pages. Donald Trump is only mentioned a couple of times.\
PositiveNewsday\"Are we scraping the bottom of the barrel, reading less impressive stories and oddments the author had not intended for publication? The answer is no — with a tiny bit of well, maybe. Most of the stories in the new collection are as stellar as those in [A Manual for Cleaning Women, though it trails off a bit at the end.\
RaveNewsday\"Good news, comrades. From one of our finest comic novelists comes a work with equal parts smarts and heart to go with the steady hilarity of its plot and prose. Lake Success, by Russian-born Gary Shteyngart, is surely the funniest book of the year, indeed one of the best overall—ultimately, a rueful mash note to the author\'s adopted country (with an extra kiss blown to the Long Island village of the title). Like comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, Shteyngart mocks us relentlessly for the fools that we are. Unlike Cohen, he loves us all the more.\
PanNewsdayThe Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist who appear in The Girl in the Spider\'s Web...are stiff, unappealing puppet versions of the characters who sold more than 80 million books worldwide ... the more serious problem is that he doesn\'t get the characters. The first sign is the drinking. People who famously swigged coffee on every other page have switched to booze, trying to forget their troubles ... Salander, the pierced and tattooed genius...is even less recognizble. Lagercrantz doesn\'t do elfin goth; the character has been reduced to the scary freak her detractors in earlier books mistook her for ... That sound you hear as the cone of silence is lifted? It\'s the moans of the fans.
PositiveNewsdayA book like this begins at a slight disadvantage, since milestones and decisions of this sort are not always as interesting to other people as they are to the person experiencing them ... familiar and freshly formulated, thus taking the first step in overcoming the problems of solipsism and been-there-done-that-ism a memoirist of ordinary life confronts ... At the same time that she\'s convincing you of her insight, she\'s beginning to win your heart, particularly in her descriptions of her mother\'s decline.
RaveNewsdayThe proposition that there is nothing wrong with writing about one\'s own life underlies A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, which continues the musings begun in Essays After Eighty and 17 previous works of prose: more on the writing life; more on Hall\'s marriage to and early loss of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon; more on Eagle Pond Farm, the New Hampshire property where his family has lived since the Civil War; more on medical matters and mortality; more on the poet\'s famously immoderate beard … While some memoirs succeed on the basis of the stunning story they tell…Hall\'s delightful persona on the page; his crystalline, rhythmically precise sentences; his dry wit and his humility about his own achievements guarantee that we will happily spend this final afternoon in his company.
PositiveNewsdayThe unpacking of these complications is one of the pleasures of Umrigar’s storytelling, one aspect of the immersive trip to India that her novels provide. The physicality of her writing, whether she’s describing the revolting sanitary conditions of Bhima’s slum or the slick, frigid ambience of an upscale shopping mall, is another. So, too, is the intricate language of nicknames and honorifics (didi, bai, baba, seth, mausi) and the rhyming slang ... On a deeper level, the book provides an almost \'Siddhartha\'-esque experience of sharing a character’s spiritual journey.
PositiveNewsdayAlthough the chapters of And Then We Danced don\'t seem to have been written on journalistic assignment, they nevertheless feel like a series of magazine articles. The finest works of immersion journalism...have a narrative drive that is missing here. Yet Alford\'s jaunty reportorial style makes the meandering journey perfectly pleasant. From his participation in a Twyla Tharp community dance piece in a public park to his breakout role in a four-minute art film about contact improv, he wholeheartedly illustrates the wisdom that shimmers at the heart of his book: \'Hobbies are hope.\'
RaveNewsday\"For a person who has spent the past 40 years trying to explain to other Yankees what’s so great about Texas, the publication of God Save Texas is a godsend. He does the job as thoroughly and concisely as anyone ever could, without neglecting to explain what is not so great about Texas, too ... Wright’s treatment flows impressionistically from one topic to the next, incorporating material from his New Yorker and Texas Monthly articles, and introducing myriad characters in a cascade of crystalline sketches.\
RaveNewsday\"...the novel eschews a simplistic, idealized view of mentorship and influence, or of friendship. Elements of complication — competitiveness, resentment, selfishness, rationalization and moral compromise — run side by side with nobler instincts, handled in a way that doesn’t make the characters less likable, only more real ... The Female Persuasion is the best kind of social novel — a brilliant book about relationships set against a backdrop of principles, movements and change.\
Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta, Trans. by Chenxin Jiang
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn the words of its native son, Dr. Pietro Bartolo, the Italian island of Lampedusa is \'a small piece of the earth’s crust that broke off from Africa and drifted toward Europe.\' In recent years, its path across the sea has been traced by hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East who land in Lampedusa on their way to Europe ... From his post on Favoloro Pier, Bartolo awaits them — sometimes treating them for conditions contracted on these brutal journeys, sometimes preparing their bodies for burial ... But he does not look away, and he does not let us look away, either ... It is rare to read about the life of someone like Bartolo in his own words. The journalist Lidia Tilotta, listed as a co-author of Tears of Salt, did a fine job of preserving the tone of the doctor’s stories, arranging them in 32 short, plain-spoken sections.
RaveNewsdayThe complex relationship between the normal and the paranormal is also central to The Afterlives by Thomas Pierce, a novel set in the near future, where both church services and most clerical jobs are performed by holograms ... His investigation of this phenomenon leads him to an experimental physicist who has begun to successfully explore life after death. The relationship between death and love is at the heart of this book, and it’s at its best when most romantic.
RaveNewsdayIt’s the equal of and direct successor to his finest work, which most would agree are the stories in Jesus’ Son, although it was his novel Tree of Smoke that won the National Book Award ... Each of the five stories in The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is in one way or another about wrapping up a life; the plots are littered with dying people, corpses, ghosts and commentary on mortality ... With The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, Johnson found the perfect note to go out on — an instant classic.
PositiveNewsdayMukherjee’s formal experiment leads to something not so far from the collections of linked stories we’ve seen recently from Elizabeth Strout (Anything Is Possible) and Joan Silber (Improvement). It is a form uniquely suited to depicting the operation of fate and coincidence, and to showing relationships and characters from a variety of angles. Mukherjee’s version is unsparing in revealing just how far from free we are.
MixedNewsday...it all sounds sort of like The Handmaid’s Tale, looming large in the culture right now due to its television adaptation on Hulu. But while Atwood imagined her dystopia in nauseating specificity, Erdrich’s remains unclear and oddly derivative ...characters are the best thing about Future Home of the Living God — first among them, its complex, deeply intelligent and witty narrator, Cedar ... Incarceration, escape and life-and-death situations ensue. This part of the book was so chilling that it gave me nightmares ... In the meantime, her wisdom, her humor and her storytelling fire make even one of her lesser works worth reading.
RaveNewsday[Hoffman] delivers a gift sure to enchant ... the story unfolds in romantic and magical ways against the backdrop of 1960s, with the Stonewall riot, LSD in Central Park, Bob Dylan and Vietnam all making appearances. Hoffman will keep you guessing until the very end of the book how the Practical Magic generation fits in, a clever, heartbreaking finale.
MixedNewsdayLabor Day, narrated by Henry, is suffused with tenderness, dreaminess and love. It is tender even toward its villain — not the convict, but an anorexic teenage girl Henry meets in the library. But is tenderest toward Adele, the mom, a one-time dancer who looks like Ginger on Gilligan's Island, a damaged woman hiding at the end of a dead-end street in a very small town … Labor Day is first and foremost a page-turner, and its momentum and brevity compensate for a couple of distractions along the way. For example, though I was moved by the depth of its compassion for Adele's losses — a stillborn baby and a divorce — I wondered if an adolescent boy could feel and know as much about them as Henry does. Supposedly he is telling the story from a distance of many years, but this older-and-wiser perspective surfaces rarely and feels like an abandoned premise or an afterthought.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
PositiveNewsdayMany readers will enjoy this journey of 600 days, seeing the details of the bizarre 2016 campaign from Clinton’s perspective and with the benefit of her thorough, minutely detailed analysis ... Many people from across the political spectrum feel that Clinton is not the person she says she is. They don’t believe she loves her husband, that she is truly dedicated to the public good, that she wasn’t hiding anything in those emails. This book gives us Hillary’s version of Hillary, and it has the ring of truth.
PositiveNewsdayA complex, fractured narrative, it requires patience to put all the pieces together, but ultimately repays the effort as the characters’ identities, histories and destinies click into place ... Here we meet a young American on the run who falls in love with a waitress. His romantic notions are not the only thing that gets in the way of his espionage success ... It all comes together to deliver a searing message about the difficulty of just action and human connection amid the pingpong match of retaliation in the Middle East. Dinner at the Center of the Earth will give them plenty to talk about in the bar at the Tel Aviv Hilton.
PositiveNewsdayCeleste Ng grew up in Shaker Heights, and has poured her knowledge of the place into the thorough and rather brutal depiction of it here. And she also embodies its spirit in Mrs. Richardson herself. 'All her life she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control,' Ng writes. Better to keep that flame 'carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration.' Poor Mrs. Richardson. Avoiding conflagration seems unlikely in a book with this title.
RaveNewsdayAs a reader, I am resistant to novels about abuse — but My Absolute Darling thunders past that preference just as Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life did two years ago. These novels achieve something similar to what happens in the best fiction about the Holocaust, seducing us with beautiful language and characters and then setting loose the drama and horror of true human evil. I hated it — and loved every minute.
RaveNewsday\"Because he has perfect pitch when it comes to shading the emotional states of his characters, Perrotta can make you believe anything ... a delicious, tragicomic and finally forgiving take on the mistakes we modern people can’t seem to stop making. Mrs. Fletcher is a delight.\
PositiveNewsdayTo try and explain the complications that ensue would be folly. Just look at the size of the cast ... Almost everyone from From Rockaway gets to make at least an appearance. Despite the overcrowding and the kookiness of the plot, Swell is anchored in real understanding of the people of Rockaway, what they went through in those years and their recourse to black humor.
RaveNewsdayThe key to counteracting the seemingly inevitable prurience of the story is Donoghue's decision to let Jack tell it … Outside ends up seeming more bizarre than the world within. Donoghue's description of the experience of release from captivity is well done (and based on research from the real cases), but it cannot measure up to the magic of the story before Ma and Jack leave Room. This dark and beautiful fairy tale about the parent-child relationship is what you'll never forget.
PositiveNewsday\"Good tidings, ladies and gentlemen of the fan club. While some of the pleasures of Theft by Finding are familiar from the earlier books, it has virtues that make it a standout among them ... Sedaris’ personal essays are put together so carefully that none of the seams show; they often ingeniously build to a sneak attack of wisdom or poignancy in the final lines. Here, the relatively artless diary entries, short and long, sequenced and non sequitur, add up to something we’ve never gotten before — a big, juicy narrative arc. It comprises 25 years of an essentially heartwarming success story, any potential ickiness kept in check by Sedaris’ judicious minimalism ... Career success takes a toll on the narrative momentum. Entries from 2001 and 2002, mostly about book tours and life in Paris, feel more dilatory and less pithy than what’s come before.\
PositiveNewsdayIf the sexual harassment plot unfolds a bit predictably — men are dopes and liars, women are sisters under the skin — the cleverness of everything else is such that you almost don’t notice. Shafrir is priceless on topics from millennial office culture to the Russian immigrant lifestyle of Katya’s parents to the vast chasm dividing today’s 20-somethings from 30-somethings.
RaveNewsday...after finishing Elizabeth Strout’s new collection of linked stories, Anything Is Possible, I had to reread her previous book, My Name Is Lucy Barton — and then I went straight back to Anything Is Possible. I read the two books twice, and was happy about it. Now I’ll just be sitting here waiting for the miniseries ... Gossip has a bad reputation, but sometimes it’s just being interested enough in people to want to know more about them than they might want you to. That’s exactly what this book feels like ... The only real question here is whether you should you read My Name Is Lucy Barton before you read Anything Is Possible. I think either way works. If I’m any guide, you’ll be reading them both twice anyway.
MixedNewsday...begins as a coming-of-age story, takes a turn into surrealism and horror, and ultimately reveals itself to be a gritty moral fable about cultural appropriation ... Like James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, White Tears uses magical realist elements to capture aspects of the history of racism. But for this reader, the novel’s punishment of its characters seems to outweigh their crime, making two somewhat generic white fanboys the surrogates for centuries of theft and violence.
RaveNewsday...[a] strange, profound, melancholy and often silly book ... Only George Saunders would think of such a bizarre and elaborate conceit to address those questions, and wrest from it so much feeling, so much humor and sorrow. Historical fiction will never be the same.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveNewsdayThe opening story, 'Black-Eyed Women,' is told by a ghostwriter who specializes in survivors of tragedy...This is the most brutal story; others have a softer kind of melancholy, with ironic moments created by the absurdities of life — such as what happens when a man looking to thank the family of the donor of his new liver finds there are hundreds of people with the surname Vu in the Orange County phone book ... As our first major Vietnamese-American writer, Nguyen is a prodigious genius is making up for lost time. Good thing we let him in.
PositiveNewsdayThough the setup — on-site postdocs, unlimited funds, buildings covered with olive-green AstroTurf — is quite different from the classic hippie communes featured in Lauren Groff’s Arcadia and T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, many of the same dynamics are at play. Sexual tension is one problem. Public opinion, now magnified through social media, is another ... the novel’s grand finale, with no lack of pulled pork or romance, reminds us that not everything unpredictable is painful or bad, and that conventional arrangements have no monopoly on the profound connections that make family.
PositiveNewsdayThanks to the author’s intelligence, self-awareness and wit, this book is a lot of fun. There’s just one thing — the elephant in the room referred to only as 'my husband'...for many readers, the conviction that they would never need to know another thing about the incredible love of Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Those readers must be warned. 'When I gaze at my husband, when I feel his body along the length of mine,' she writes, 'I feel a deep, contented joy, a warmth that begins in my belly, spreads out to my limbs and through the top of my skull.' And: 'For six hours, we talked about our feelings for each other, why we love each other, how we love each other.' Grit your teeth — it’ll be over in a few pages.
RaveNewsday...a short, simple novel, the first-person narrative of several months in the life of a woman in Delhi. There are just a few characters and settings, a straightforward plot and a wonderfully funny narrative voice. It is an easy pleasure to read ... The feel of contemporary Indian life, caught between tradition and modernity, is brilliantly captured in the details of Mrs. Sharma’s predicament ... I will be devouring all past and future work from this clever, wise writer.
PositiveNewsday...so vivid and sharply drawn ... While various forms of ironic self-consciousness and formal experiment are found in many of the 16 stories, two of the standouts ('The Happy Family' & 'Dead Relatives...Dead Dreams') are more traditional.
RaveNewsdayThere are two things you need to know about David France’s book How to Survive a Plague. First: It’s flawless. Masterfully written, impeccably researched, and full of feeling for the living and dead heroes of the AIDS movement...Second: It’s too much. Exhaustive, and also exhausting ... a complete and correct record of this terrible story and its heroes.
RaveNewsday...[a] delicious if not very straightforward novel ... The grandfather is a fantastic and complicated character: a genius and troublemaker, brooding logician, ethical brute, romantic, funny, macho, unquestioningly devoted to his difficult wife and daughter, both brilliant characters as well.
RaveNewsday...gets away with being unabashedly gossipy by also being culturally rich, globally aware and politically sharp ... One sentence of Zadie Smith can entertain you for several minutes ... Both a stunning writer on the sentence level and a cunning, trap-setting, theme-braiding storyteller, with Swing Time Zadie Smith has written one of her very best books.
PositiveNewsday[Judy's voice] creates a particularly unresolvable sort of grief, a plaintive and genuine emotional note running through the dreamlike narrative ... This seemingly artless but in fact very controlled novel is on one level, a fairy tale complete with fairy godmother, and on another, a whispered goad to the reader: Live the life you really want.
PositiveNewsdayThe omniscient narrator of Cruel Beautiful World is the work of an accomplished fiction writer with 10 novels to her name ... However, as this narrator keeps moving from Lucy to Charlotte to Iris to Patrick to William, recounting back story after back story, the emotional intensity of the book becomes a bit muffled. Five is too many. With this merry-go-round narrative style, neither the tragic climax nor the chain of disappointments that follows hits quite as hard as they should. Still, Cruel Beautiful World is a page-turner — recommended reading for those reveling in the current literary ’60s revival.
PositiveNewsdayThe unraveling of the mystery here will bring into play another Donoghue obsession, something even creepier than superstition and ignorance. As much as we can count on her to plumb the heart of human darkness, Emma Donoghue loves a happy ending. Readers who feel the same will enjoy the blaze of romance and drama she ignites to end Lib’s Hibernian adventure.
Arlie Russell Hochschild
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHochschild is a brilliant sociologist and a great teacher, able to explain complex ideas in lucid, logical prose. But to get alienated parties over this very high empathy wall, she has to be a great human being, too. Her connection and kindness to the people she meets is what makes this book so powerful.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe plot is full of drama and the writing is crystal clear, with sharply drawn images and evocative word choices while at the same time giving each of three narrators a distinct voice. Still, I found myself just shy of completely absorbed in the story. Between the rotating viewpoint, the ongoing introduction of characters and the continual pausing to look things up in Wikipedia, the book never let me fully relax. This might not be true for better-informed readers, and does not take away from the novel’s message, or the usefulness of giving dopes like me a chance to fill in some of our blanks in geography, history and cultural awareness.
PositiveNewsday...most of thoughts in this book are well-put, often worth stopping and mulling over. But what keeps the pages turning is the current of Angela and Corey’s doomed relationship ... From the first pages to the last, “Riverine” is full of questions. One of these is the purpose of writing. 'Could I better understand the significance of the angle of a man’s bottom lip, of an illiterate man registering to vote, of rotten milk, because I am compelled to notice?' she asks.Taken as a whole, Riverine is an answer to this question. Yes, she can.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWith this thorough examination of the 70-year history of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, longtime Washington Post reporter Dan Zak launches a mission to regain our attention ... Dan Zak’s wake-up call is right on time.
PositiveNewsday...a rich and complicated New York saga that bounces around in time — 2001, 2009, 1981, 1992, and on to 2021, each chapter shifting the spotlight among the characters. It’s an exciting read, sometimes a little confusing, but ultimately all the pieces fit together; the reader’s patience is rewarded ... AIDS drops like a stone into the pool these characters live in. Those of us whose lives were deeply affected by it, and have lived on past it, will recognize and admire the crescendo and diminuendo Murphy traces ... Capacious yet streamlined, it is a very fine book.
RaveNewsdayWhat puts flesh on the bones of Abbott’s flying cheetah of suspense is her insight into parenting, marriage and various sorts of interpersonal rivalry ... lifts Abbott above other writers in this genre, making her something of a Stephen King, whose work hangs right on the edge of the literary while making your skin crawl.
RaveNewsdayIn 14-year-old Lucia Stanton, the putative author of the book, Ball has created a voice that echoes the beloved narrators of J.D. Salinger and John Green ... This is perfect summer reading for cool kids of all ages. Move over, Holden.
RaveNewsdayEvery page of this book offers small pleasures of language — Chinese ribs with a 'glandular sheen,' the 'rotted pucker' of sherry, both served at a party where Evie’s mother 'hovered nervously around the buffet: she’d put out chopsticks, but no one was using them, and I could tell this disappointed her.' That watchful, judgmental eye is unmistakably an adolescent girl’s, a perspective Cline renders perfectly. Cline is also skillful at maintaining suspense...If these were its only virtues, The Girls would be a good book. But it is more than that. By using fiction to explore the moral issues raised by a confounding historical event, it takes a shot at greatness.
RaveNewsdayWith all the writers who live in Brooklyn, we read a lot of books set in its neighborhoods. The bar is high, the field is crowded, and the demographic represented in Modern Lovers gets a lot of coverage. Emma Straub’s particular take is wry without being snarky, and smart without being affected. With cleverness and warmth to spare, her aim is to entertain, and she breezily succeeds.
RaveNewsday\"Yanagihara\'s most impressive trick is the way she glides from scenes filled with those terrifying hyenas to moments of epiphany. \'Wasn\'t it a miracle to have survived the unsurvivable? Wasn\'t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? Wasn\'t this house, this beauty, this comfort, this life a miracle?\' A Little Life devotes itself to answering those questions, and is, in its own dark way, a miracle.\
RaveNewsdayThe vivacity, humor, sorrow, pragmatism and sheer literary star power that fill the 43 stories collected in A Manual For Cleaning Women hit with such immediacy and vigor that it seems unbelievable that their author, Lucia Berlin, died in 2004, at the age of 68, before most of us ever knew about her ... Anyone who loves the stories of Grace Paley and Lorrie Moore will find another master of the form here -- and will feel immense gratitude to the supporters who brought us this collection, selected from earlier small-press editions of her work.
MixedNewsdayWhat's a break, you may ask. It is one of many, many technical surfing terms you'll come to know by the end of this book without their ever actually having been defined. It's like an immersion course in a foreign language. Just let it flow over you. By the end, you'll have some idea what's going on ... A surfer from Oregon named Andre explains why 'chicks' have such a tough time when they get involved with surfers. 'It's like if you or I hooked up with a fanatical shopper,' he said. . . . 'You'd have to accept that your entire life would be traveling around to malls. Or, really, more like waiting for malls to open.' How about reading a 447-page book on that topic? If anyone could make it work, it's the stylist and storyteller William Finnegan.
PositiveNewsdayMuch as I loved this novel, the acknowledgments at the end — where Bock speaks candidly about the origins of the story and its relationship to his real life — made me love it twice as much. Instead of blurring the beauty and truth of the novel with inevitable questions about 'how much is true' and 'why didn’t he write a memoir,' those questions are directly answered — and the answers make you see why fiction was a great choice, allowing him to develop his heroine in a way that would have been impossible in memoir...
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a dogged attempt to understand what happened, a review of the psychological, sociological and spiritual explanations for the crime, a meditation on the death penalty and on the city of Brownsville ... Tillman closes with a last look at the building, still standing. Behind it Tres Ángeles Community Garden now thrives, its name recalling the 'three little angels' who 'live in each root and stem and leaf.' The short lives of these 'small ghosts' are given lasting meaning in this book.
PositiveNewsdayLike other ultra-candid essayists, Harrison deliberately keeps the issue of her own likability in the foreground ... What is fair game in memoir, and what is TMI and voyeurism? Should Kathryn Harrison be telling us these stories? If you are asking yourself these questions, Harrison has you where she wants you, whether you’re comfortable there or not.
PositiveNewsdayThough I found no breaking news in All the Single Ladies, it’s a well-written and unabashedly feminist analysis of the history and current situation of single women in America. When we all 'put our hands up,' as Beyoncé urges, it is clear we are a force to be reckoned with.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle...what you really want to know is, is it as good as Life of Pi? The answer is not quite. It’s just as ambitious, just as clever, just as existential and spiritual, and also concerns characters facing unutterable loss ... The High Mountains of Portugal is a much more complicated creation, with three stories full of dramatis personae, events and situations, magical realist flourishes, much reliance on surprising twists and recurrences, and frankly, more dry spells in the narrative.
Mary Louise Parker
PositiveNewsdayJust one sticking point: why only men? What happened to the women in her life? Perhaps she should have explained this decision somewhere, as one can't help but wonder. Or maybe she's planning a companion volume. In any case, she's a serious writer, and I doubt this is the last we'll hear from her.
PanNewsdayEven the die-hard fans might prefer a less busy route next time.
PositiveNewsdayBrownstein has insightful things to say about growing up with a closeted gay dad and an anorexic mom, about how the creative process works, about the performance' of the audience at a concert, about the punk aesthetic. She deconstructs Sleater-Kinney's music as a rock critic would, sometimes giving in to a touch of self-importance, forgivable in light of Sleater-Kinney having been anointed 'the best rock band in the world' by Time magazine.