RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewAllegra Goodman delivers a portrait of a girl at risk that shimmers with an unusual intimacy and depth ... Tenderhearted ... As Sam grows steadily stronger and better at rock climbing, finding new routes upward where none seemed possible, her inner life shifts as well. In Goodman’s highly skilled hands, this metaphor never feels contrived. An exquisite slice of life bigger than its heroine alone, Sam is reminiscent of Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s 2014 cinematic portrait of a boy from childhood to early adulthood. That’s a high compliment. If it feels like Sam must live on in the world after the novel is done.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewStewart O’Nan opens his new novel, Ocean State, with this grabby narration by one Marie Oliviera: \'When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl.\' It almost sounds as if he’s about to launch into one of those contemporary twisty thrillers, but what he does with this quick sketch of a plot is far more interesting and enduring ... Whatever the genre he’s playing with, O’Nan is an enticing writer, a master of the illuminatingly mundane moments ... O’Nan is subverting the thriller, borrowing its momentum to propel this bracing, chilling novel. Whereas thrillers tend to use murders as a prurient jumping-off point, the entryway to the reader’s pleasure — that chance to play Columbo or Kinsey Millhone in our heads — O’Nan takes his time, humanizing this story to make the hole where the victim was suitably substantial. Highly specific to the landmarks of the real Ashaway, but ringing with the universal, Ocean State is a map for the emotional dead ends of America, where kids kill other kids over seemingly nothing. O’Nan understands that at least in the moment, it is for everything.
J. M. Thompson
PanNew York Times Book ReviewThe Tahoe 200, broken up into increasingly exhausted stages, provides a framework for the narrative of his earlier, traumatized life. It’s a promising approach, but Thompson is coy about the details of what happened to him, interspersed in a nonlinear fashion. Sometimes that’s his only choice, since his memory is imperfect. Other times it feels like a deliberate vagueness, meant to tease us until he gets over the next ridge ... Ultimately the memoir, like the race itself, is an erratic slog ... Memoirs are by nature the stuff of self-indulgence. But that’s for the first and second drafts, not the one the reader receives.
MixedThe New York TimesSome sections of this slim book may feel padded (unless you’re riveted by the subject of gluten), and Ruhl’s detective work into her family medical history is speculative enough to feel tangential ... But there’s something pleasing about the memoir’s deliberately slow pace, mimicking Ruhl’s recovery over 10 years.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewBonnie Tsui’s Why We Swim, an enthusiastic and thoughtful work mixing history, journalism and elements of memoir, is ostensibly focused on those who do swim, rather than those who don’t. Tsui sets out to answer her title’s question with a compassionate understanding of how that mind game stops some and a curiosity about how and why it seduces others ... This is more of a quick dip than a comprehensive history of swimming, but it’s still full of good information ... Tsui is commendably transparent about her methods, but there are times when that gives Why We Swim the tone of a book report, one where the writer likely had travel limitations based on budget ... Tsui endears herself to the reader as well. Her universal query is also one of self, and her articulations of what she learns are moving ...
RavePeople... crackles with a rare electricity from its first page ... Atwood terrifies, teases (Aunt Lydia is wickedly funny) and sometimes she breaks her characters’ hearts ... There is not a dull voice in this propulsive narrative, not a moment that doesn’t drive it all forward while still enabling the reader to feel what it is to be trapped in Gilead ... As it charges to a wise and and moving end, The Testaments answers the important questions left from the original. It also addresses, very directly, the way to survive in dark times, namely collecting and documenting the stories of corrupt leaders, and then exposing them. If back in the relative innocence of the 1980s The Handmaid’s Tale made readers shiver over what the patriarchy has already wrought and could do again in our future, The Testaments reminds us of the power of truth in the face of evil.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... gravely beautiful ... [Hoffman\'s] subjects are preteen and teenage refugees on the run from Berlin and Paris, but with them, she conjures up contemporary children fending for themselves after being separated from their parents by today’s horrors ... Her storytelling isn’t seamless. She sends her fictional characters into known history, wedging in pieces of background information that can feel exactly like that. But even as Hoffman the researcher shows her work, Hoffman the storyteller continues to dazzle.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"The premise, which delves into questions of Daphne’s parentage as well as her romantic past and future, is old-fashioned, sometimes to a point requiring some generosity from the reader ... Daphne comes across as a bit primly Victorian, prickly and unyielding. But Lipman dresses the plot up with contemporary cultural touches ... Good Riddance is a caper novel, light as a feather and effortlessly charming. It will not save lives or enrich them in an enduring way... But the book inspires a very specific kind of modern joy. I read it fast, in a weekend, during which I did not find my social media accounts or tidying my house nearly as diverting as what was on these pages. Being more attractive than Twitter may sound like a low bar, but in these distractible times, it feels like a genuine achievement.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewBrockes...is so smart and tartly charming (think Fleabag meets Helen Fielding) that it doesn’t much matter that you sense an obligation to make a word count as she vacillates about some aspects of her story, particularly her relationship with her sort-of-partner, L ... (Could someone please make a TV show about these women?) ... Brockes creates dramatic tension by debating the virtues of using known sperm donors as opposed to strangers, and whether to rely on the British health care system—socialized but slow—or her adopted country’s for assisted reproduction ... Brockes gets at the undeniable but typically unspoken competitiveness among women when it comes to fertility ... An Excellent Choice isn’t purely a story about love ... [an account] from the front lines of reproduction, a place where there is no such thing as absolute fairness.
RavePortland Press HeraldThis spring Koryta published his 13th novel, How It Happened a Maine-set tale of two missing bodies, the opioid epidemic in a coastal town and an FBI agent who can’t get over his instinct that a confession no one else believes is true … Excellent mystery-suspense novel. Page turner. Perfect summer reading.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewSailing along with George & Lizzie, I often clutched at its sides, sure the vessel’s rigging was off-kilter. Occasionally I felt queasy, unsure of the direction we were heading. But the prose was sturdy and the subject matter provocative. Pearl makes regular references to other books, and I clung to our shared favorites (like Dodie Smith’s old-fashioned tale of English girlhood, I Capture the Castle) as if to a life preserver … Offering oneself up for the pleasure of a team of football players has to be one of the weirdest premises ever devised for a romantic novel. Pearl’s steering may be off, but let it not be said that she’s afraid of uncharted waters.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...[a] swiftly paced if occasionally soppy saga ... Grace muses, 'Is it from musical notes that true longing is born?' How much you enjoy this book may depend on whether you can answer that question in the affirmative. If life were anything like a Shreve novel, Match.com would be a website selling the wooden sticks to light fires with. But how the pages turn, even the ones padded with Grace’s not entirely believable ambivalence over matters large and small ... Shreve has a gift for making the mundane engaging.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewAlthough she creates an odd family of sorts, this is definitely not a story of plucky women banding together to fix up a chilly home. Their recoveries are burdened with unending guilt, and while they’re sharing the deprivations of the present, very often they’re keeping secrets about the traumas of the past, even from one another. Shattuck’s characters represent the range of responses to fascism. Her achievement — beyond unfolding a plot that surprises and devastates — is in her subtle exploration of what a moral righteousness like Marianne’s looks like in the aftermath of war, when communities and lives must be rebuilt, together.
PanThe Portland Press Herald...[a] bludgeoningly sentimental novel ... there are many ways in which Lily and the Octopus is like observing an exhausting tantrum ... this emotional breakthrough doesn’t feel earned through an organic evolution. Instead the whole octopus business comes across as a coy device, simply the means by which the writer stalls the inevitable breakthrough and death scene with enough padding to make it a book.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...[a] tender, astute look behind the scenes at a small-scale family farm in the years when the locavore movement was just taking hold ... The Excellent Lombards is about possession, succession and the uneasy balance of power between multigenerational farmers. Mary Frances goes by many names but as expertly rendered by Hamilton she’s a storybook character, an inquisitive, imperious but lovable girl akin to Harper Lee’s Jean Louise Finch, Rumer Godden’s Cecil Grey or Ian McEwan’s Briony Tallis.