Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, is a critic-in-residence and lecturer at Georgetown University. She is an associate editor of and contributor to Mystery and Suspense Writers and the winner of the 1999 Edgar Award for Criticism. She is the author of So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures and the literary memoir Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading!
RaveNPRStunning ... You could imagine lots of ways a historical novel about this horror might be written, but none of them would give you a sense of the strange spell of This Other Eden—its dynamism, bravado and melancholy. Harding\'s style has been called \'Faulknerian\' and maybe that\'s apt, given his penchant for sometimes paragraph-long sentences that collapse past and present ... [An] intense wonder of a historical novel.
RaveThe Washington PostThe eeriest Gamache novel yet, A World of Curiosities is also one of Penny’s most intricately plotted and harrowing ... Even secondary plots are tinged with a supernatural aura ... Anyone who’s read Penny’s novels knows that as entertaining as they are, they are also charged inquiries into the actual evils that human beings and societies do ... Only a mystery writer of great stylistic range and moral depth could handle the demands of such a shifting — and potentially sensitive — story as this one. Fortunately, as she proves once again, Penny is all that and more.
PositiveThe Washington PostNow here’s something you don’t come across every day: a mash-up of a Western, a serial-killer mystery and a feminist-inflected tale of life in a bordello. But Jane Smiley’s A Dangerous Business is all that — and, amazingly, it works ... Smiley smoothly melds three distinct narratives into one without breaking a sweat.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe austere style and measured pacing of Foster is perfect ... Ms. Keegan has a sharp ear for mundane meanness, but she has an even keener appreciation for kindness and its complications. The girl will have to return to her home at the end of the summer, to parents who haven’t been in contact or given any indication they’ve felt her absence. Is it a gift—or a shattering cruelty—to expose a child to a better life, when that life may only be temporary? As Ms. Keegan well knows, only the Mildreds of the world will have a ready answer to that and all the other moral questions this matchless novella raises.
RaveNPR... charged ... Schiff illuminates how well in advance of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin or John Adams (his more prominent cousin) Samuel Adams strategized, wrote and wrangled the American Revolution into inevitability ... not merely a dutiful exhumation of a poorly remembered Founding Father, it\'s a thrilling, timely account of how the American Revolution happened ... is informed on every page by scholarship, but Schiff, as Adams himself did, knows how to hold an audience.
RaveThe Washington PostIf Dickens had lived to write about the Jazz Age, he would have produced a novel much like Kate Atkinson’s Shrines of Gaiety. A sprawling and sparkling tale set in London in 1926, Atkinson’s latest is overrun with flappers, gangsters, shilling-a-dance girls, disillusioned veterans of the Great War, crooked coppers, a serial killer, absinthe cocktails, teenage runaways, snazzy roadsters and a bevy of Bright Young Things ... how else to describe the masterful way Atkinson not only musters up a city-full of characters but also slowly and smoothly binds them together through coincidence and hidden relationships? ... A reader could become as punch drunk on Atkinson’s complex, intersecting plotlines as Nellie’s customers do on her high-octane \'Turk’s Blood\' cocktails, but the pleasure is worth the mental hangover. There is something ornately theatrical about this novel and the multitudinous character \'types\' that populate it ... not interested in psychological depth or nuance; instead, it sets out to evoke — with gusto and precision — a lost Roaring ’20s London that, perhaps, never was. As Nellie Coker’s girls might say: If you are looking to have fun, just relax and go with it, and you will.
RaveNPRHas the feel of a YA crossover novel ... [The] ingenious plotline alone about librarians as resistance fighters is enough to garner Our Missing Hearts a whole lot of love from readers ... But it\'s in the second section of this novel, a flashback, where we learn how what\'s called the crisis happened in America, where Ng\'s writing becomes richer and her story more disturbing in its near familiarity ... Our Missing Hearts reflects our headlines back to us. But it also powerfully and persuasively offers hope for changing those headlines. In a final moving turn, the novel dramatizes how bearing witness through art and simply speaking up can melt indifference. That sounds sentimental, I know, but Ng\'s own masterful telling of this tale of governmental cruelty and the shadow armies of ordinary citizens who both facilitate and resist is its own best testimony to the unpredictable possibilities of storytelling.
RaveNPRHorowitz\'s writing is as simultaneously buoyant and precise as Quid\'s zest for catching tennis balls — over, and over, and over again. Her chapters, packed with close observations about canine cognition and behavior, are mini-mood lifters.
Andrew Sean Greer
RaveNPRIs Less Is Lost as good, as funny, as poignant as its predecessor? To which I would happily answer: Yes, at least! ... There are extended comic passages here about Less\' Walloon ancestry and a mediocre gay men\'s chorus singing Leonard Cohen songs that I read aloud, laughing, to anyone I could waylay. But comedy also arises out of pain and Greer smoothly transitions into the profound ... Greer has said in interviews that this sequel is the end of Less. That would be a shame. Greer should add even more to Less\' saga and take him as far as he can go.
RaveNPRThe deadpan tone of [the] narrator\'s voice implicitly urges readers to \'just roll with it\' and so we do ... Nothing is just one thing in Ma\'s writing: Satire swirls into savagery; a gimmicky premise into poignancy ... Every one of these eight stories ventures out of familiar situations into the weird ... All of the stories in Bliss Montage are haunting; none are didactic. Ling Ma writes with such authority that we readers are simply swept along, like that professor, through the portal. If sometimes we wonder where we\'ve ended up, maybe that sense of dislocation is the desired final effect.
RaveNPR... it\'s a special year when a debut breaks out of this distinguished pack and takes an early lead for its originality, heart, wit and sweeping social vision. The debut I\'m cheering on is called If I Survive You, by Jonathan Escoffery and the \'you\' his characters are trying to survive is America itself ... That\'s not to say Escoffery\'s characters are mere victims of Fate, as basic as that storm-stripped house of theirs. They themselves have plenty of agency to hurt, love, betray and simply misunderstand each other ... an extraordinary debut collection, an intensively granular, yet panoramic depiction of what it\'s like to try to make it — or not — in this kaleidoscopic madhouse of a country.
RaveThe Washington Post... so inventive, the only ageist wisecracks it deserves are the ones its characters make about themselves ... a singular suspense story thanks to its deftly fluctuating tone, which is by turns comical, violent and unexpectedly affecting ... t’s impossible not to root for these dangerous dames and their refusal to let themselves be put on the ash heap — a phrase that, in this thriller, should be taken literally.
PositiveNPRHamid is a chronicler of instability ... His surreal narratives are just-the-other-side-of-plausible because they\'re tethered to once-improbable realities ... Hamid writes with on-the-ground immediacy that draws readers in ... Most of Hamid\'s novel consists of extended sentences...whose restlessness mimics the flux of his fictional world. There\'s a downside, however, to being limited to mostly Anders\' self-absorbed view: He\'s not that thoughtful a guy, so he doesn\'t offer any deeper thoughts about racism ... Hamid, himself, however, does clearly savor the absurdities generated by the construct of race ... A deft, if narrow, Twilight Zone-type fantasy about identity, The Last White Man only seriously strains credulity at its very end. No doubt, it says something about our own anxious times that the happy ending here seems too far-fetched.
RaveNPR... a closely observed, droll, coming-of-age story about an insecure young woman drawn into a shimmering clique of poets; it\'s also a wise story about the corrosive power of shame and the primal fear of sounding stupid, unsophisticated and sentimental ... Thompson is such a nuanced writer that she avoids \'either/or\' categories. Like most people, the larger-than-life Viridian is a lot of things at once: a prima donna, for sure, and a bit of a manipulator, but also a sincere mentor. Writing through Carla\'s perspective gives the alert Thompson an opportunity to nail the social class microaggressions and misunderstandings that pop up again and again in conversations with Viridian\'s coterie, who literally speak a different language ... As absorbing as that plot is, however, it\'s Thompson\'s charged depiction of Carla\'s unfocused yearning to be more that powers this story and makes it so emotionally resonant. The Poet\'s House, as I said, is a keeper.
RaveNPR... whatever its subject, when a novel is powerful enough, it transports us readers deep into worlds not our own. That\'s true of Moby Dick, and it\'s certainly true of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which renders the process of designing a great video game as enthralling as the pursuit of that great white whale ... as intricate as the games that Sadie and Sam devise, all of them stories-within-stories inside this novel. This is a sweeping narrative about a male-female relationship that\'s not romantic, but, rather, grounded on shared passions and fierce arguments ... There are also smart ruminations here about cultural appropriation ... satisfies the aspirations of both Sadie and Sam: It\'s a big, beautifully written novel about an underexplored topic, that succeeds in being both serious art and immersive entertainment.
Katherine J Chen
RaveWall Street JournalMs. Chen retrieves the worn fragments of Joan of Arc’s story and assembles them into a narrative that’s eerie, austere and just this side of plausible...To do so is no small feat ... The fierce conviction of Ms. Chen’s vision of Joan drives this historical novel ... As any chronicler of Joan of Arc must be, Ms. Chen is adept at describing physical violence; this wrist-breaking episode prefigures the breathless battle scenes to come ... Ms. Chen is equally skilled at charting how Joan’s sanctified reputation grows ... Novels that try to get inside historical figures we can’t ever know are most illuminating for what they say about their own moments. Ms. Chen’s Joan, unlike so many of her fictional and cinematic predecessors, is no gamine, no little Maid of Orléans. Instead, female physical power—undiluted by piety or conventional feminine attractiveness—is celebrated here ... Surely many readers will feel that Ms. Chen has summoned up just the Joan of Arc that this anxious, repressive age demands, even if her hope is not easily summoned.
MixedNPRFor those of us with limited tolerance for this stuff, the fact that Moshfegh is such a vivid and inventive writer only makes matters worse ... the kind of novel that can make a critic like me sound like a scold; a knock-off of the Victorian sage Matthew Arnold, who demanded \'sweetness and light\' in literature. But there is no enlightenment in these pages, and the only \'beauty\' to be found is in the vividness of Moshfegh\'s language and the cleverness of her plot, which is an elaborate snicker at the gullibility of anyone who thinks ancestry can be reliably traced through birth records ... If that\'s enough for you, have at it! But, as the late medieval philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously said, life is \'nasty, brutish and short\"\'— and, for me, the life depicted in Lapvona couldn\'t be short enough.
RaveNPRFitzharris, a historian of science and medicine, has written a riveting, old-fashioned, man-meets-the-moment account of Gillies\' work in the field of plastic surgery ... There\'s an inherent danger of sensationalism in this subject of gruesome facial injuries, but Fitzharris is a pretty straightforward writer, relying on letters, reports and newspaper accounts to give vivid immediacy to the patients\' ordeals ... In The Facemaker, Fitzharris includes a few before-and-after photographs of Gillies\' patients. It\'s impossible to look at these side-by-side photos of their faces without feeling, first, ashamed and, then, awed by what we humans are capable of doing to and for each other.
David Santos Donaldson
PositiveNPRAt its best, Greenland is a smart, exhilarating novel about racism and self-knowledge whose unwieldiness is compensated for by its daring ... If these plotlines sound a little overheated, well, sometimes they are. In fact, I put the novel aside twice. But Donaldson\'s own ingenious voice as a writer kept drawing me back; so did his humor ... \'Only connect\' is, of course, Forster\'s famous epigram from Howard\'s End, a poignant, at times desperate plea for connection among people who are as much mysteries to themselves as to others. In Greenland, Donaldson reworks \'only connect\' to be a paean to self-connection, the integration of ambivalent identities into something like a wryly formed human being for our time.
Shelby Van Pelt
PositiveNPRI had my doubts about this detecting duo of janitor and tentacled gumshoe: I thought it might be too cute. But, as Marcellus might joke, I was a sucker for thinking so. His voice, which alternates with chapters featuring Tova and other characters, is scornful and sad ... Like a noir detective, Marcellus looks the ultimate deadline of death in the eye and doesn\'t blink. Both of these strange and freshly-imagined stories go deeper into uncharted territory for the mystery novel.
RaveNPR... one of those novels that\'s always pulling a fast one on a reader ... The opening section of Trust...is so sharply realized, it\'s disorienting to begin the novel\'s next section, composed of notes on a story that sounds like the one we\'ve just read. But, then, Diaz lures us readers into once again suspending our disbelief when we reach the captivating third section of his novel ... wired with booby traps, blowing the whole artifice up before our wide-open eyes ... an ingeniously constructed historical novel with a postmodern point. Throughout, Diaz makes a connection between the realms of fiction and finance ... an artistic fortune.
RaveThe Washington Post... an edgy time travel ride back to L.A. in the spring of 1963 ... Phillips has conjured up the best of all possible guides to this watershed moment ... fast-paced, tough, wry and smart, but what makes this novel a singular sensation is the diverse cityscape of mid-century L.A. that Phillips summons up. More than simply scattering cosmetic references to African American newspapers or notables like Dorothy Dandridge, and (eventual) Mayor Tom Bradley, Phillips takes readers deep into another world and time: its jokes, home furnishings, baloney-meatloaf-and-hot-dog-heavy meals; its hateful slurs, \'invisible\' racial boundaries and cautiously hopeful possibilities.
RaveNPR... superb ... one thing that sets Tasha far apart from the usual one-sided literary conversation with a deceased parent is Morton\'s rigorous attempt to see his mother, Tasha, whole — as a person — not \'just\' in relation to him, or, God forbid, an eccentric \'character\' ... Another thing that distinguishes Tasha is Morton\'s elastic style as a writer, by turns droll, emotionally wrenching, and profound ... The land of no mercy would have been a fine alternate title for this powerful memoir. No mercy for the elderly in need; no mercy for the labor force that cares for them; no mercy for the guilt-ridden, exhausted adult children. It\'s a wonder that with themes this heavy, Tasha is such a pleasure to read, oscillating between past and present, horror and hilarity, the big social picture and one son\'s ongoing attempt to work out some stuff with his mother.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe Love of My Life is a classic example of the \'I married a stranger\' domestic suspense plot—with a twist. Usually, the partner with a secret triggers suspicion in us canny readers early on ... But, Emma Merry Bigelow, the enigmatic heroine of Rosie Walsh’s The Love of My Life, seems so funny, warm, compassionate and kind that we readers root for her—even though we learn fairly quickly that she’s living under an assumed name and harbors a host of other secrets, something her adoring husband, Leo, doesn’t know about. Walsh just may have written the first domestic suspense novel in which the deceitful spouse is also a genuinely nice person. Maybe ... As appealing as the characters of Emma and Leo are, the essential draw of a domestic suspense story such as this one is its plot. Walsh concocts a doozy. Her narrative is studded with evasively worded passages that lure us readers into dead ends, switchback turns, false sutures between scenes and a startling final climax. All that passes for reality is unstable in The Love of My Life.
Elena Ferrante, tr. Ann Goldstein
MixedThe Washington PostThere’s a whiff of the graduate school seminar room, especially about the first three lectures here ... Granted, these lectures were written to be delivered to scholars and other strains of intellectuals, but they feel dated, as if they were written in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, when literary theorists were still parsing the epiphanies of Roland Barthes’s famous 1967 essay, \'The Death of the Author,\' and exposing the internal contradictions of literary form ... Perhaps it would be more revelatory to hear Ferrante’s responses to contemporary critical views that underscore the connection between personal identity and art ... The idea that adhering to form, as beautifully as Ferrante does in her celebrated novels, simultaneously signals the abandonment of all that’s left outside that form is a truth known to anyone who’s ever had the impulse to write. It’s Ferrante’s distinct articulation of that loss here — the voice and tone whose singularity she undermines in the other lectures — that makes the experience freshly melancholy. The other three lectures In the Margins should only hold the attention of those fans who will read anything and everything by that manufactured construct known as \'Elena Ferrante, author.\' But \'Pain and Pen\' has the extended poignancy that the great sportswriter, Red Smith, compressed into one deathless remark: \'Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter, cut open a vein, and bleed.\'
RaveNPR... a slim brilliant novel about the value and beauty of mundane routines that shape our days and identities; or, maybe it\'s a novel about the cracks that, inevitably, will one day appear to undermine our own bodies and minds; and — who knows? — it could also be read as a grand parable about the crack in the world wrought by this pandemic ... Otsuka\'s signature spare style as a writer unexpectedly suits her capacious vision ... You\'d think the subjects here and this choral type of narration would make for a cold, impersonal dirge of a novel. Instead, The Swimmers has the verve and playfulness of spoken word poetry ... glides lightly through these philosophical waters, more lightly I think, than Cheever\'s metaphor-heavy short story did. But why compare? There\'s room enough for all in this Olympic-sized existential pool.
PanThe Washington PostIde boasts an insider’s knowledge of Southern California (he grew up in East Los Angeles) and has been explicit about his reverence for Chandler. Unfortunately, apart from its moody, Chandler-esque title and a main character called Philip Marlowe, The Goodbye Coast has as much connection to Chandler’s novels as Rome, N.Y., has to Rome ... a double-helix plot — composed of a secondary cast of sadistic Armenian gangsters — that twirls and unwinds; twirls and unwinds, until it ends abruptly and anticlimactically. No matter, right? As I’ve said, Chandler’s own novels and stories rate a B-plus at most when it comes to plotting. What does matter in any worthy Chandler tribute is language (in particular, those over-the-top metaphors), atmosphere and an all-encompassing vision of \'a world gone wrong.\' In The Goodbye Coast, those essential elements reappear in faint and flattened form ... unless such reinventions are done with wit and lyricism — as Ide’s own IQ series is — they would be better not done at all.
Nina De Gramont
RaveWashington PostAn ingenious new psychological suspense novel that concocts an elaborate backstory behind Christie’s disappearance ... Here’s the neatest narrative trick of all: As Christie characteristically did, de Gramont hides the solution to the mystery of The Christie Affair in plain sight ... The Christie Affair is richly imagined; inventive and, occasionally, poignant; and about as true-to-life as Christie’s own tales of quaint villages with their staggering murder rates. But when fabrications are this marvelous, why demand realism?
RaveNPRYoung Mungo, like its predecessor, is a nuanced and gorgeous heartbreaker of a novel. Reading it is like peering into the apartment of yet another broken family whose Glasgow tenement might be down the road from Shuggie Bain\'s ... What\'s different about Stuart\'s new novel is its form: The outer frame here is a suspense story; a story not just of innocence lost, but slaughtered ... As he did so deftly in Shuggie Bain, Stuart takes us readers deep into the working class world of Glasgow—here, circa early 1990s—where jobs and trade unions have been gutted. Stuart, who grew up in this world...doesn\'t translate, but lets the life of the tenements make itself known though his precisely observed and often wry style ... We readers know none of this will end well, but it\'s a testament to Stuart\'s unsparing powers as a storyteller that we can\'t possibly anticipate how very badly—and baroquely—things will turn out. Young Mungo is a suspense story wrapped around a novel of acute psychological observation. It\'s hard to imagine a more disquieting and powerful work of fiction will be published anytime soon about the perils of being different.
Julia May Jonas
RaveNPRA virtuoso debut ... [The] naughty cover, combined with the novel\'s title, also serves as a warning that this is going to be a sly and subversive read. After all, there\'s only one Vladimir who reigns supreme in the literary realm, so any novel that gestures to Vladimir Nabokov and, by implication, Lolita is a novel to be wary of. Our unnamed narrator here, our Humbert Humbertina, if you will, is a professor of women\'s literature in her late 50s who\'s so witty, sharp and seductive that, as a reader, I was pretty much putty in her hands, as generations of her students have been ... You may recoil from our narrator\'s cool rationale...but surely you can also hear how deft she is in her professorial way of complicating the situation, prodding us readers to look at things from another angle ... [An] extraordinary novel, which is so smart and droll about the absurdities and mortifications of aging and sexual shame, as well as the shifting power dynamics on college campuses ... We can seek to suppress that which upsets our sense of morality or we can engage with what is disturbing, offensive, deeply wrong. And, when reading the artful Vladímír, we can also have a damn good time doing it, too.
RaveThe Washington Post... ingenious in its sinister simplicity ... a superb literary suspense novel that calls to mind an earlier such debut, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History ... Like Tartt, Prins understands the fascination of the arcane. He coaxes us readers deep into weeds of Tessa’s research, rendering technical details about things like \'limping iambic\' poetic meter, not only graspable, but engrossing. The other signature aspect of academic life—particularly in graduate school (Prins attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop)—that he nails is its monomaniacal lack of moderation ... Prins’s evocative writing style makes The Latinist more than just a diverting contrivance ... The startling and grotesque metamorphosis that ends The Latinist might have earned the approval of Ovid himself. Like the classics that inspire it, The Latinist is an inventive wedding of the elegant and the barbaric.
RaveNPR... a peculiar and entrancing blend of memoir and reportage ... Smart about sexual desire and the ease of analyzing — but the difficulty of escaping — familiar gender roles, Sea State offers a close up view of the white, working-class resentments that helped fuel both Brexit and the Trump presidency. As a journalist, Lasley commits the cardinal sin of getting involved with one of her subjects; but as memoirist, her transgression saves Sea State from the tone of faintly anthropological distance that books about the working class often have ... As it turns out, Sea State. has more than enough calming introspection and roiling antagonisms to make it well worth the ride.
RaveNPRThese are not new subjects; but Birmingham writes the kind of deeply researched and deeply felt literary biographies for which clichéd rave terms, \'immersive\' and \'reads like a novel\' were coined ... packed with cinematic episodes ... As Birmingham certainly knows, it would take a Dostoevsky novel to do full justice to Dostoevsky, but The Sinner and The Saint is a pretty exquisite consolation prize.
Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton
PositiveNPR... before I knew it, I\'d lost my grip and fell headlong into the frantic feminist fantasy of State of Terror ... The two women have said in interviews that they wanted to have some fun during a difficult time and to pay tribute to the power of female friendship. Call me naïve, but the resulting thriller, though uneven, bears out their claims. State of Terror is what Graham Greene famously called \'an entertainment.\' Searching for fine writing or complex characters here would be as pointless a quest as searching for the Maltese Falcon. Instead, like most political thrillers, State of Terror is a plot-driven concoction, featuring a classic race against time ... a giddy read, particularly for women of a certain age...particularly in its second half when Penny\'s trademark one sentence paragraphs intensify the pace of the suspense and Clinton\'s fictional alter ego goes la mano a mano with two of her real-life foes ... As thriller fantasies go, this one feels a lot more plausible to me than most.
PositiveThe Washington PostAllie Burns is the engaging main character ... It’s the tone and the plot itself of 1979 that seems agreeably retro. There’s a single act of violence here, certainly more sad than gory or even, frankly, surprising. And sex, while it’s important to this mystery, is a topic that’s talked about among the characters with effort and, in keeping with the times, dramatized discreetly by McDermid ... as much a female bildungsroman as it is a suspense story—and that’s not meant to be a backhanded compliment. McDermid vividly summons up that young adult state of confusion (that many of her longtime female readers may recall) when brazenness alternates with bewilderment; when you insist that the world see you and simultaneously tell you who you are. This first novel featuring Allie Burns is the debut of a new series that will proceed decade by decade. I, for one, am eager to see how she has become more at home in her own skin, 10 years on.
RaveThe Washington Post... a standout, lyrically bleak novel ... the writing here is so sharp nearly every sentence could split open a haggis. (And I defy even the most ardent fans of McIlvanney and Rankin to determine which man wrote which passages.) ... The doctrine of social class as predestination has rarely been presented so succinctly. The distinct appeal of The Dark Remains, of course, is that it allows us readers to encounter the McIlvanney’s philosopher-detective before he hardened a granite legend ... The solution to the mystery of \'Who killed Bobby Carter?\' is agreeably unexpected, but, as in so many excellent crime stories, by the time it emerges, many of us readers will be hazy on what set this investigation in motion in the first place. The point is the journey, to savor walking down the mean streets of 1970s Glasgow once again with the stoic Laidlaw.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWhile we are in the company of his creation, Mr. Doerr pulls off the crucial trick that any novelist would have to execute to make such a testament to the power of stories more than just a literary public-service announcement. In “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” he writes a marvel of a story himself, filled with gorgeous language and distinctive characters. He sweeps readers in and gives us the enveloping experience of living in another world—a Cloud Cuckoo Land, if you will, of the imagination. Put simply, Mr. Doerr shows rather than tells us readers what a great story can do ... transports us to places far above the stars and down into the mud. It dazzles and disturbs. I, for one, wanted Mr. Doerr’s vast and overwhelming story to last much, much longer ... But, perhaps not entirely knowingly, this great novel also raises disquieting questions: What happens when the stories are no longer enough to allow us to \'slip the trap\'? When we are flooding in some places, burning in others, and a friend’s virus-laden laugh might kill us? When we blow up the children listening raptly to stories in our hallowed libraries? We say that we tell ourselves stories in order to live, but maybe that resonant axiom is the most desperately needed story of all.
PositiveNPRIt\'s such an unassuming title (and one that sounds like it belongs to a writing manual); but, Louise Erdrich\'s latest is a deceptively big novel, various in its storytelling styles; ambitious in its immediacy ... An absorbing and unquiet novel, The Sentence, like the era we\'re living through, keeps us readers on the alert for the next improbable turn of events looming ahead of us ... I\'d add The Sentence to the growing list of fiction that seems pretty \'essential\' for a deeper take on the times we\'re living through.
PanThe Washington PostNot only is every character in Hawkins’s novel vile, self-serving, and narcissistic, even worse, they’re dull. Dull, dull, dull. Even the serial killer is dull ... Hawkins relies on a zigzag storytelling style where we readers hear multiple perspectives on the same events courtesy of a third-person narrator who has access to the thoughts of different characters .... Hawkins’s novel, in contrast, offers little incentive for a reader to stay involved. Her bland rogues gallery of characters—major and minor—attests, once again, to \'the banality of evil.\' And, with the exception of a clever plot twist at the very end of this novel, its revelations don’t merit its ornate complications. The \'fire\' that’s burning in Hawkins’s title isn’t the only thing about her latest novel that’s slow.
PositiveNPRI\'d never read Naylor\'s debut and reprints like this one give readers like me that extra nudge to find out whether we\'ve been missing something ... This form can be heavy on melodrama and Naylor doesn\'t always dodge that pothole. But it\'s her ardent inventiveness as a storyteller and the complex individuality she gives to each of her seven main characters that make the novel so much more than a contrived literary assembly line ... As a collective narrative, Naylor\'s novel amplifies the systemic racism that keeps everyone in stuck in place ... many passages here that make a reader stop and appreciate the way Naylor expresses nuanced emotional states ... Deftly, Naylor gathers all these individual stories into one climactic narrative that works through the reader via a word-by-word sense of horror and outrage. The power to decide who, in fact, can be permitted the ordinary chance to be \'just a lousy human being\' is itself still the subject of furious argument in this country. The Women of Brewster Place, born of the details of a particular time and community, also turns out to be one of those, yes, universal stories depicting how we, the fallen, seek grace.
RaveNPROnce in a while, in the torpid weeks of late summer, a new writer appears whose voice has so much zest and authority, they pre-emptively steal some of the spotlight from the big Fall books. Skinship, a just-published short story collection by Yoon Choi, is in that magical category of debuts. Reading Choi\'s stories reminds me of how I felt when I first read the works of other singular sensations like Kevin Wilson or Karen Russell, writers who do things with language and storytelling that no one else has quite done before ... I know: immigration is hardly a fresh subject and it\'s especially popular in memoirs and fiction these days. But, it\'s Choi\'s approach, the way her stories unexpectedly splinter out from a single life to touch upon decades of family history shaped by immigration that make them something special ... All these stories are standouts, but the title story Skinship is in a class of its own ... Choi is the kind of writer whose work creates situations and emotions so complex, we don\'t even have the words for them, at least not in English. In this extraordinary collection, Choi nudges us readers into widening our vocabularies.
RaveNPRIt\'s a testament to Rooney\'s curious, cerebral gifts as a writer that she not only draws her readers into tolerating long stretches of...ruminations but makes them so entertaining. We feel we\'re in good company with our own end-time anxieties ... Rooney vividly traces the shifting amoeba-like shapes of these relationships in her distinctive, expository prose style that reads like a late capitalist homage to Hemingway ... It\'s striking that in this, Rooney\'s toughest and most sweeping novel to date, that what\'s tentatively affirmed at the end are...sex and friendship, personal bonds between human beings ... Rooney\'s novel, like all great fiction, is open-ended. It\'s given to an ambivalence that runs from the author through her narrative to us readers ... Rooney isn\'t sure. Instead, she entices us into her own dark uncertainty, where, remarkably, we enjoy spending time.
PositiveNPRI picked up Agatha of Little Neon for its unusual subject and I got pulled in by Agatha\'s voice. Sharp and, by turns, melancholy and wry ... What\'s especially striking about Luchette\'s novel is that it affirms the age-old writing workshop wisdom of \'show don\'t tell.\' Despite the fact that our narrator, Agatha, lives a contemplative life, she doesn\'t devote a lot of space to ruminations. Instead, every short chapter here is structured as a precise vignette dramatizing different incidents in her and her fellow sisters\' lives from the mundane to the harrowing ... You don\'t have to be Catholic to connect with Luchette\'s nuanced and vivid story of a lonely young woman yearning for community and also yearning for everything she\'s had to give up to be part of that community. The nuns don\'t fly or sing or torment the helpless in Agatha of Little Neon, but they do make an indelible impression.
RaveNPRSpiotta is one of the most alert, ambitious, nuanced, and, yes, smartest of our contemporary novelists ... it\'s the character of Sam herself — messy, hurtful, floundering in late midlife — who\'s the compelling draw. Recently, I\'ve become aware of the term, \'crossing the crimson bridge\' as a fanciful way to refer to menopause; in Wayward, Spiotta endows that passage with all the gravitas and unpredictability it deserves by giving us a heroine who chooses to take a flying leap off \'the crimson bridge\' into uncharted territory.
RaveThe Washington PostThere’s the brilliance, the devastating humor, the complicated sexual history with women, and the fraught relationship with his mother ... But, a more explicit literary presence here is that of Stephen King, as Dream Girl swiftly morphs into Nightmare ... With each stand-alone novel she writes, Lippman triumphantly turns in a different direction ... Socially conscious (the #MeToo movement makes a decisive entrance into the plot) and packed with humor, ghosts and narrative turns of the screw, Lippman’s Dream Girl is indeed a dream of a novel for suspense lovers and fans of literary satire alike.
RaveNPR... ideal cutting-edge, socially-conscious entertainment for late summer ... Packed with social criticism, satire, ghosts and narrative turns of the screw, Lippman\'s Dream Girl is indeed a dream of a novel. And all the literary pilferings Lippman herself has committed here are acknowledged, front and center.
RaveNPR... a dynamic and discriminating cultural history that speaks to both readers who know something about the project and those who don\'t. Like the American Guides these Depression-era writers worked on, Borchert\'s book teems with colorful characters, scenic byways and telling anecdotes; his own writing style is full of \'verve\' — the much prized quality that so many of the guides themselves possessed ... Borchert also makes a timely case for viewing these guidebooks — assembled in part out of the narratives of formerly enslaved people and histories of \'economic struggles\' — as presenting a \'multitudinous\' national story that was directly at odds with the Euro-centric, \'whites only\' one cherished by nativists.
PanThe Washington PostThe Silent Patient, was, according to his ecstatic publisher’s promotional copy, \'the biggest selling debut in the world in 2019,\' so perhaps I’m missing something distinctive about The Maidens...That something would not be the novel’s descriptive passages nor its dialogue. Judge for yourself. ... As a Gothic seducer, the professor relies on lines more full of baloney than the Cold Cut Combo at Subway ... I will admit I was drawn in by the first few chapters of The Maidens that focus on Mariana’s grief and her work as a group therapist. I even looked forward to Mariana’s getaway to Cambridge...But Michaelides’s plot begins to go off the rails when a graduate student in Mathematics falls instantly in love with Mariana and proposes soon thereafter. Credibility is further strained by Chief Inspector Sangha, who’s in charge of the investigation, a man with \'a lean and hungry look\' who treats Mariana with instant (and unexplained) disdain. The novel’s credibility fully disintegrates at a memorial service held in the college chapel for the first victim. There, Professor Fosca and The Maidens process in and no one in attendance — university administrators, parents or students — places a red alert call to authorities from the Sexual Misconduct Review Board ... Throughout The Maidens, Michaelides quotes from the melancholy poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, one of Cambridge’s most celebrated poets. But a line from another Cambridge poet began seems to me more apt as a final pronouncement on The Maidens. I’m thinking of A.E. Housman who was a professor of Latin there in the early 20th century. Housman wrote the long poetry sequence, A Shropshire Lad, which contains the oft-useful line, \'Terence, this is stupid stuff.\'
PositiveThe Washington PostIf you like your psychological suspense stories awash in atmosphere, drenched in dread, positively soaked through with sinisterness, Palace of the Drowned, by Christine Mangan is for you ... The ingeniousness of Palace of the Drowned derives from Mangan’s great skill in stirring up carefully calibrated doubt about everything and everyone ... Mangan’s narrative structure, especially in the dead center of this tale, can sometimes feel a bit waterlogged, a little too bogged down in its own clever ambiguities. But the pace picks up as the historic storm of 1966 gathers force. Mangan, who has a PhD in English with a focus on Gothic literature, clearly revels in describing the claustrophobic terror of the storm ... In a melodramatic climax worthy of the opera that Frankie and Gilly attend, tears, accusations and confessions fly free; so, too, do precious manuscript pages that sink down beneath the rising waves of the canal that borders the palazzo. Like so many other recent suspense stories, Palace of the Drowned ultimately turns out to be a tale about literary appropriation and the anxiety of authorship. About her own commanding authorship, Mangan should have no anxieties: This is one damp creeper that will give readers renewed appreciation for the stability of dry land.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... resonant ... Out of contemplative pauses in front of that plaque, Mr. Spufford has created an extraordinary novel in terms of its variety of character, symphonic language and spiritual reach ... This plot structure can sound formulaic, plodding even. And, certainly, the pitfalls of sentimentality are many in a story that imagines \'what might have been\' for five dead children...But Mr. Spufford is no Whittier, and his characters, as they move decade-by-decade through their imagined lives, are no mere static types ... Even to tick off these characters and their stories in this fashion renders them reductive in a way that Mr. Spufford never does. He’s such a beautiful writer, casually stunning in his language and perceptions ... Along with incisively and often wittily describing the imagined progression—and setbacks—of his characters’ lives, Mr. Spufford also conjures up an impressionistic history of six decades of London life ... It’s all so engrossing. And, then, inevitably, a shattering awareness intrudes: these lives are even more heartbreakingly imagined than is typical in works of fiction. Again and again, a reader is drawn into their mundane particularity and, again and again, one remembers the explosion that cut those five futures short in 1944. In resurrecting lives that never were, Light Perpetual is a miracle, not only of art but of encompassing empathy—it becomes not only about the terribly brief lives of these five fictional children, but of the finitude that bounds all the living and the dead.
RaveNPR... a resonant novel about what \'might have been\' for five young casualties of war, as well as a God\'s-eye meditation on mutability and loss ... This plot structure can sound formulaic, plodding even. And, certainly, the pitfalls of sentimentality are many in a story that imagines the lives that five invented dead children might have led. But Spufford avoids those pitfalls and as he moves his children through their imagined lives they become so much more than mere reverent icons ... Even to tick off these characters and their stories in this fashion renders them reductive in a way that Spufford never does. He\'s such a beautiful writer, casually stunning in his language and perceptions ... Along with incisively describing the progression — and setbacks — of his fictional children\'s lives, Spufford conjures up an impressionistic history of six decades of London life ... Again and again, Spufford draws us readers into the mundane particularity of his maturing characters\' lives and, again and again, we readers are jolted by the awareness that those five futures were cut short in 1944. In resurrecting lives that never were, Light Perpetual is a miracle, not only of art, but of encompassing empathy. The novel becomes not only about the terribly brief lives of these five fictional children, but of the finitude that bounds all the living and the dead.
Jean Hanff Korelitz
RaveThe Washington Post... a witty nightmare of a thriller ... Purloined manuscripts used to be a staple device in traditional mysteries, but this latest wave of \'who-wrote-it?\' suspense stories is edgier, more socially aware. In these tales, power imbalances rooted in gender or class tempt malefactors into thinking they’re justified in stealing someone else’s voice and story ... The plot of The Plot is so ingenious that it should be assigned as required reading in the very MFA programs it pinions, both as a model of superior narrative construction and as a warning of the grim realities of the literary life to naive wannabe writers.
PositiveNPRYou can hear in that passage the speed with which this novella shifts tones: how it fluidly moves from farce to raw regret. The chicken may have snagged my attention, but what I experienced by the end of Naspini\'s short novel was Nives\' entire life story: the limitations of her horizons as a girl growing up in a certain time in rural Italy; her erotic desires and stupid missteps; her resignation ... ingeniously constructed around the dialogue these characters have with one another that reads like an extended two-character play. Emotions whiplash and the most unexpected of secrets and epiphanies emerge.
RaveThe Washington PostWeiner has made a major literary career out of writing engrossing popular novels that take women seriously ... That Summer is more explicitly a political novel than most in that its plot is informed by the rise of the #MeToo movement and the seismic shift in attitudes toward men ... One of Weiner’s signature strengths as a writer is her ability to realistically depict how people change in body and soul ... Weiner writes incisively, yet with restraint, about Diana’s incremental process of reclaiming some measure of peace ... a compelling, nuanced novel about the long, terrible aftermath of sexual assault and the things that can be stolen from women that can never be fully restored. But, because it’s a Jennifer Weiner novel, it’s no polemic. It’s empowering in its own way. Weiner seems to steadfastly believe in the saving grace of humor, the ability of time to open up possibilities and the strength of female friendship. Me, too.
PositiveNPRThe humor in award-winning writer Joan Silber\'s new novel, Secrets of Happiness, is more subdued; it\'s rueful rather than charming ... expansive and elegantly crafted ... Silber begins handing off the story, chapter by chapter, to other narrators, among them Ethan\'s newly-discovered half-brothers, the ex-girlfriend of one of those half-brothers, and Ethan\'s fickle present lover\'s former lover. It\'s not like everyone knows each other, but they\'re connected in some cosmic way, almost like a horizontal extended family tree that can only be observed from space.
PositiveNPR... buoyant ... Heiny writes in a simple droll style about ordinary people who are often being less than their best selves.
PositiveThe Washington PostMcLain’s story line is fueled by pure high anxiety ... McLain deftly constructs a multi-part narrative that flashes back to Anna’s troubled upbringing and the family life she’s recently fled, while keeping pace with the sudden turns in the current case. The town of Mendocino, with its ocean fogs and ornate Victorian architecture, is an eerie presence in this novel ... Perhaps it’s no surprise that McLain has shifted so fluidly from historical fiction to suspense, given the overlaps between the investigative work of the historian and the detective. But in When the Stars Go Dark McLain has not entirely abandoned her practice of fictionalizing the lives of real-life people. It’s this aspect of her novel—in which actual kidnapping victims and their families intersect with fictional victims—that some readers may find discomfiting ... an atmospheric and intricately plotted suspense novel. But be forewarned: For some of us readers who remember the real-time terror of Klaas’s kidnapping and its tragic aftermath, this novel may be too faithful to history to be wholly pleasurable.
RaveThe Washington Post... brooding ... Power, a literary critic in London, surely must have been thinking of Graham Greene’s The Third Man when he wrote this elegant suspense novel ... like the best noir fiction, manages to be both suspenseful and cosmically destabilizing. Nothing and no one are what they first appear to be ... a superb suspense novel, imbued with moral and narrative complexity and an omnipresent low cloud cover of dread.
RaveNPR...after I started her book, I had to stop and double check to make sure that this wasn\'t a true account of a real-life rock duo from the 1970s. That\'s how authentic this odd novel feels, composed, as it is, out of a pandemonium of fictional interviews, footnotes, talk-show transcripts, letters and editor\'s notes ... Walton aspires to so much more in this story about music, race and family secrets that spans five decades. And, all the glitzy, quick-change narrative styles don\'t detract attention from the core emotional power of her story. I tell you, even many of the fake footnotes in this novel are moving ... The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is itself anything but \'regular.\' A deep dive into the recent past, it also simultaneously manages to be a rumination on up-to-the-minute themes like cultural appropriation in music, and the limits of white allyship.
PositiveNPRThe eight tales in Lanchester\'s Reality and Other Stories are meant to entertain, to take you out of yourself for a space — and that they deftly do. Be forewarned, though: One of the most disturbing stories here touches on our own fearsome times.
PositiveNPRWhat sets Ellen McGarrahan\'s just-published true crime book, Two Truths and a Lie , above so many others I\'ve read is the moral gravity of her presence on the page and the hollow-voiced lyricism of her writing style ... Like Tafero\'s execution, the murder scene — as McGarrahan imagines it — haunts her. She finally allows herself three months to work on the case full time and her investigation spans continents. That\'s all I\'m going to say because the experience of inhabiting that investigation with McGarrahan is so intense readers should experience it for themselves ... For me, the even deeper draw here is McGarrahan\'s struggle to come to terms with the evil she was drawn into as a young reporter.
PositiveThe Washington Post... yet another clever example of what’s been dubbed the Gone Girl on a Train school of suspense ... light on character development and plausibility, but rife with the most important ingredient in this strain of suspense fiction: inventiveness. The plot here makes whiplash turns, loop de loops and sudden reversals. It opens in Morocco, swerves to New York and ends up in the cool amoral vacuity familiar to fans of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels. What’s not to enjoy? ... turns out to be much more than a question about authorship; indeed, it’s a question fraught with life and death consequences. Andrews’s novel is sharp, unpredictable and enormously entertaining. To say anything more would ruin the fun of reading—and being lightly appalled—by it.
RaveNPRThe Life of the Mind is about endings that dribble to a close, the inexorable erosion of dreams, the slow leak of youthful buoyancy. It\'s about being young-ish at a time in history when it feels like many things might be fading away, including the natural world. The great accomplishment of Smallwood\'s taut novel is that while it is, indeed, about all those grim subjects, it\'s also one of the wittiest, most deliciously farcical novels I\'ve read in a long time.
PositiveThe Washington PostAs a novel, \'Smoke\' is a bizarre marvel: its narrative winding evil and preposterousness round and round ... In an IQ novel, there are always many simultaneous subplots that could be introduced with the transition \'Meanwhile.\' ... In its own idiosyncratic fashion, \'Smoke\' is superb. Just be forewarned: after enduring the horror and screwball absurdities of the novel’s extended grand and bloody climax, readers may well feel that they, like IQ himself, need a restorative break.
PositiveNPRIn the concluding — and, to my mind, less successful — Haitian section of this novel, historical realism gives way to Gothic excess: A weird mansion where all sounds are magnified, a rotten patriarch and even a confined madwoman overrun the storyline ... is most compelling when it hews closer to the known facts of the past and to the tensions, which Greenidge so acutely imagines, between a mother of vast accomplishment and a daughter who simply doesn\'t share that mother\'s ambition ... That passage and so many others like it generate a tension in the narrative of this fine novel and in us readers, too — between the residual currents of cruelties and compromises, and the emergent one of a more humane future that only yet more struggle might hope to bring about.
RaveNPRHe is the master of slowly deepening our awareness of human failing, fragility and the inevitability of death — all that, even as he deepens our awareness of what temporary magic it is to be alive in the first place ... Klara and the Sun is yet another return pilgrimage and it\'s one of the most affecting and profound novels Ishiguro has written ... I\'ll go for broke and call Klara and the Sun a masterpiece that will make you think about life, mortality, the saving grace of love: in short, the all of it.
RaveNPRThe year is probably too young to make this kind of pronouncement, but the new novel I know I\'m going to be rereading in the coming months and spending a lot of time thinking about is Vendela Vida\'s We Run the Tides. It\'s a tough and exquisite sliver of a short novel whose world I want to remain lost in — and at the same time am relieved to have outgrown ... There are so many moods and story currents running through this wonder of a novel ... Female adolescence in this novel feels like being sucked out to sea. It\'s overwhelming, absurd and dangerous and even the best adults can\'t help. Eulabee and her friends have to figure out how to swim back to shore all on their own.
PositiveThe Washington PostWhat ensues is the Tilt-a-Whirl of a careening plot, but throughout Blood Grove, Mosley also summons up images of places that linger ... The central mystery in Blood Grove, — as in all the Easy Rawlins books — is as much about the brazen contradictions of American society as it is about what happened in that orange grove one night. But that mystery turns out to be pretty gripping too.
MixedNPR... exuberant ... fabulous and wearying ... a novel I feel deeply mixed about. Lee\'s writing style, as usual, is alive with wit and satiric social commentary. But Tiller is such a walking personification of ennui that it\'s hard to care very much about what happens to him on the alternative adventure he stumbles into instead of his planned semester abroad ... despite its expanse, My Year Abroad doesn\'t carry Tiller — or us readers — as far as we might expect. As an excursion, the novel mimics Tiller\'s own earlier description of those college semester abroad programs: boisterous and fun, but a bit light on core content.
RaveThe Washington Post... deft and immersive ... Audrain has a sharp ear for Mom’s playgroup conversations ... Unnerving, right? Or maybe unnervingly honest ... another iteration of the nature vs. nurture debate during a time when we’re more fixated than ever on the power of genes and the fates they inscribe. Whatever the sources of its larger cultural appeal, The Push is an ingenious reincarnation of that most forbidden of suspense narratives: the mommy-in-peril-from-her-own-monstrous-offspring.
RaveNPRTalking to friends this past week, I\'ve described Anna North\'s new novel, Outlawed, as The Handmaid\'s Tale meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ... Outlawed, in this quick summary, can sound gimmicky, but there\'s much more going on in this smart adventure tale than just a sly upending of the traditional Western, rooted in macho individualism and violence. For all the ways North ingeniously stretches the limits of the genre, she\'s also clearly a fan ... Most of all, though, it\'s the affecting character of Ada who\'s the steady draw here ... For Ada and the other \'outlaws\' of this spirited novel, the frontiers of gender and sexuality beckon to be explored.
Chelsea G. Summers
RaveWashington PostFor those who can stomach it, A Certain Hunger, by Chelsea G. Summers is a macabre banquet of a suspense novel, serving up carnal and gustatory surprises. Ultimately, you may be disgusted with yourself — as I was — for devouring this morally repugnant tale with such gusto, but reading, like eating is a hard activity to regulate once the appetites are aroused ... Dorothy speaks like Humbert Humbert and behaves like Hannibal Lecter. It’s that Humbert-like voice — the flair for fresh imagery, ornate vocabulary and sly humor —that lures readers into this vile debut novel ... A Certain Hunger is distasteful, but it’s also naughty, witty and inventive. It may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but — unlike the slew of Gone Girl knockoffs that clog the offerings of suspense fiction these days — it won’t bore you.
PositiveNPR... an over 400-page true crime book that\'s overstuffed with suspects, motives, red herrings and interviews — as well as Cooper\'s first-person meditations about her own fascination with the case ... Reading We Keep the Dead Close is akin to what I imagine it would be like to dive into a trench at an archaeological site and start digging, not with a trowel, but with a snow shovel. Cooper unearths tons of information here, but not every artifact deserves preserving. Indeed, by the time the case is closed in 2018 thanks to new developments in DNA testing, there\'s a feeling of exhaustion rather than satisfaction ... Had Cooper sifted more judiciously through this detail, We Keep the Dead Close would have been a more memorable true crime narrative. But, even in its unfiltered state, the book offers a vivid profile of one of the most prominent villains of this piece — one that to a degree still remains at large. That would be the sexist culture of academia, particularly at its most elite levels ... Cooper is an obsessive and identifies fiercely with her subject. Even when this book threatens to buckle under the weight of detail, Cooper\'s resolve to excavate the truth about Britton\'s murder will keep a reader engaged enough to want to follow this case to its unexpected conclusion.
Delphine Minoui, tr. Laura Vergnaud
RaveNPRMinoui, whose writing has been translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud, is an unadorned stylist. Occasionally, though, she comes up with a lyrical phrase that stops a reader short, such as when she refers to the photo that first caught her attention as depicting, \'a fragile parenthesis in the midst of war.\' ... The Book Collectors is itself a charged addition to the library of literary survival tales involving, not only the preservation of books, but the rescuing of the ideas they contain. I\'m thinking of everything from Thomas Cahill\'s How the Irish Saved Civilization , about the remote libraries of monks in the so-called \'Dark Ages,\' to Azar Nafisi\'s Reading Lolita in Tehran , to which Minoui\'s story is a kind of all-male companion piece.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIn its lefty political bent and hybrid cast of real and made-up characters, The Cold Millions is reminiscent of the work of John Dos Passos and E.L. Doctorow. It even gestures to the grand European canvases by Stendhal and Flaubert spotlighting young men caught in political and personal whirlwinds. The Cold Millions, however, eschews the metadramatic self-consciousness that marks novels like The Book of Daniel and Ragtime.Instead, Mr. Walter’s style of historical fiction owes something to exciting midcult yarns by Kenneth Roberts, Herman Wouk and Howard Fast—tellers of big stories about the past (Northwest Passage, The Winds of War, Spartacus) who wanted to honor the forgotten foot soldiers of history.
PanThe Washington PostSnow is terrible. Not just mundanely flat, but aggressively, sneeringly terrible ... One wonders what Banville — who won the 2005 Booker Prize for his novel, The Sea, and has been writing the marvelous Quirke mystery series under his \'Benjamin Black\' pseudonym since 2007 — thought he was doing in writing this ostentatious crypt of a detective novel?
RaveThe Washington Post... the great power of this suspense story comes from its slow, measured pacing and the intensifying evil of its atmosphere ... French’s writing...is eerie and nuanced. Indeed, even though her Dublin Murder Squad series and her other stand-alone mystery, The Witch Elm, have been uniformly excellent, this hushed suspense tale about thwarted dreams of escape may be her best yet. Like the John Ford film it pays homage to, The Searcher is its own kind of masterpiece.
RaveNPRLeave the World Behind is atmospheric and prescient: Its rhythms of comedy alternating with shock and despair mimic so much of the rhythms of life right now. That\'s more than enough to make it a signature novel for this blasted year.
RaveNPRMelodramatic ... Yet, in Miller hands, this piece of artifice becomes transformed into felt life. She\'s one of our most emotionally profound and nuanced writers ... a vivid cast of supporting characters, each with their own takes on Graham and Annie, help open out the novel: among them, Graham\'s first wife, Frieda, a teacher who never stopped loving him, as well as Graham and Annie\'s adult daughter, Sarah ... Monogamy is deliciously thick with such arresting psychological perceptions. As Annie struggles with her grief and postmortem shock at Graham\'s infidelity, Miller keeps deftly shifting what we readers might anticipate to be the ending of this novel. I may be overreaching, but the deeper I got into Monogamy, and especially when I arrived at its lyrical final pages, the more the novel made me think of the The Dead, James Joyce\'s short story masterpiece about a man whose sense of his marriage is radically changed by one fateful moment. Both narratives end on a snow-silenced night haunted by ghosts—ghosts who are out of reach, but still, maddeningly, messing with the living.
RaveThe Washington Post... the most brazenly Christie-ish of all [Ware\'s] novels ... Ware’s story follows the snow tracks of Dame Agatha’s classic but cunningly swerves off-road at crucial moments with the aid of techie updates ... As in Christie’s mysteries, part of the great pleasure of reading One by One lies in rereading key passages and realizing how dim one was (as a reader) the first time round. Much of the crucial information is out in the open, right there on the page in dialogue and description, but Ware expertly scatters red herrings galore so that even the most alert reader becomes diverted into false deductions and dead ends ... Like Christie, Ware prefers to have her killings transpire \'offstage,\' making One by One that increasingly rare literary achievement: a non-grisly thriller. The final section, where the last intended victim is locked in a ghastly battle of wits and endurance with the unmasked killer, has to be one of the most ingeniously extended plot climaxes in the suspense canon. I don’t know how Ruth Ware manages to keep up her pace of writing such fine and distinctive suspense novels every year (even Christie needed to take a break every so often); but, on behalf of suspense lovers everywhere, may I say that I’m grateful she has turned out to be a marathoner, rather than a sprinter.
RaveNPR... buoyant and innovative ... I can\'t think of a more sparkling way to get some education about the history of Black Detroit beyond Motown than to read Randall\'s novel ... As its short chapters whiz by, you get a taste of what it might have been like to have sat in the audience of one of those nightclub shows that Ziggy emceed where, maybe, Moms Mabley was waiting in the wings while rumors were flying that Dinah Washington, along with her husband, the NFL superstar Dick \'Night Train\' Lane, might be stopping by. Except here, Randall is our emcee and not all the featured guests in this novel are headliners ... a conventional enough premise for a novel and the only time that Randall relies on convention to tell this panoramic story ... Sepian, is a word that Ziggy uses a lot to refer to Black people: It\'s his opinionated, distinctive voice that rescues Black Bottom Saints from being the static series of tweaked Wikipedia entries it might have been. His anecdotes about real-life famous folks like the Mills Brothers, Bricktop, and Butterbeans and Susie, may be, like that Blue Blazer cocktail, part straight whiskey; part flaming invention, but they take readers deep into the world of mid-20th century Black entertainers who traveled the country by train ... a gorgeous swirl of fiction, history and motor oil; there are also plenty of cocktail recipes here to make the rougher stories go down a little smoother.
RaveNPRDonovan is such a vivid writer — smart, raunchy, vulnerable and funny — that if her vaunted caramel cakes and sugar pies are half as good as her prose, well, I\'d be open to even giving that signature buttermilk whipped cream she tops her desserts with a try ... robust and salty language ... about the multiple hungers that Donovan has been driven to satisfy in her life — for wonderful food, certainly, but also for love and community and for gratifying work that can support a family. It\'s not too much to hope for, is it? But as, Donovan chronicles, it can take women a while to muster up the sense of self to know they can do more than just hope.
PositiveNPRThe novel\'s flip title was a draw; its plot summary wasn\'t. A heartwarming multi-generational tale of three Bengali women sounded to me like a variant on a lot of mass-market women\'s fiction. But there\'s nothing canned about this story, which has the allure of a feminist fractured fairy tale ... What makes this little novel so memorable is the generous and expansive way that Somlata meets this malevolence. As the mindfulness coaches are always advising, Somlata responds rather than reacts; instead of remaining a pushover, she pushes back, without malice, against the ghost, as well as against the constraints of her life. This is a story that, like Aunt Pishima, lingers.
PositiveThe Washington PostBeukes is such an idiosyncratic writer—one who deftly mashes up suspense, sci-fi, horror, time travel and, yes, dystopian fiction—that she’s hard to ignore. Like P.D. James and Margaret Atwood, to whom she was implicitly compared in that over-the-top blurb, Beukes often spotlights strong female characters plowing their way through harrowing situations ... less grisly than its predecessor but perhaps eerier since it imagines a world changed utterly by a pandemic ... a suspenseful and intricate on-the-road adventure ... The long section of Afterland devoted to life amid the kooky cultists drags somewhat, but, overall, Beukes imbues what could have simply been a sensational thriller with psychological depth and sharp detail ... If the last thing you want to think about are surprise attacks and masks, perhaps a cozy Golden Age British mystery might be a better choice. But for those whose taste for dystopian suspense is undiminished, Beukes’s tale of a mother and son making their way across a post-pandemic-ravaged landscape is prescient and taut.
A H Kim
PositiveThe Washington PostHannah and Beth take turns narrating the story, which tipsily loop de loops like a mosquito that’s buzzed through a pitcher of frozen margaritas. Plot is paramount in A Good Family. Readers should be forewarned that Kim isn’t concerned with psychological depth, literary style or atmosphere. Instead, the fun in reading the novel derives from allowing oneself to be tirelessly sucker-punched by plot revelations, chapter after chapter ... Rare in a suspense novel, Kim often makes events turn out better than we anticipate ... a lively suspense diversion that provides the eternally welcome assurance that nobody has it all, at least not forever.
Camilla Läckberg, Trans. by Neil Smith
PositiveThe Washington PostLäckberg has made a career out of writing ingenious psychological suspense stories about vile people doing vile things. In her novels, the world is not \'hygge\' — that trendy Scandinavian term for cozy, featured in the likes of Ikea ads heavy on sheepskin throws and lumpy knit lampshades ... The Golden Cage tells a nasty tale about entrenched male domination in a supposedly enlightened society; great wealth and the soul rot it can breed; and the payback — oh, the sweet, sick payback of a woman used and spurned, rising up from the discard pile ... Läckberg’s prose style (as translated by Neil Smith) is flat and direct. Readers aren’t taxed to unpack imagery or allusive language ... D.H. Lawrence Läckberg is not ... Workmanlike titillation aside, the lure of The Golden Cage lies in the moral ambiguity of its heroine: Even as Faye wages a delicious First Wives Club campaign of retaliation and humiliation against the feckless Jack, we readers sense she’s not someone we should blithely root for.
Lynn Steger Strong
PositiveNPR... immersive ... Want is so sharp about economic fragility and just how close to the edge people are—even with the seeming safeguard of middle-class jobs and good educations. The narrator\'s voice is the great draw here: It\'s tough, smart, semi-reliable, low-level angry. We\'re mostly cooped up in her head throughout much of the novel, which is a fine and rich place to be, since the outside world isn\'t all that compelling ... Strong is not writing about the working poor; nor are her characters homeless or starving. Her narrator isn\'t asking for pity—the novel wouldn\'t work if she were. Instead, this is a story about mundane middle-class precariousness, about people who work a lot and owe even more. And it\'s a story about wanting, always wanting, something else.
PositiveNPR... may not be just what you need to read right now, but it may well be something you\'ll reach for eventually. Rich and unsparing, Morris\' slim memoir is a keeper ... very much in this same mode of a two-way travelogue, a journey both within and without ... so much more self-aware and expansive than what I\'ve just made it sound like: a privileged white woman\'s tale of triumph over adversity followed by the reward of what would have once been called \'exotic\' travel. Certainly, there are vivid sections here where Morris describes her travels, but Morris\' passage to India is also a passage deep into the broken places that have shaped who she is ... a travel memoir for sure, featuring tigers and moments of painful change and solitude and listening. Except for the tigers part, maybe this literary memoir isn\'t so out of step with our times, after all.
RaveNPRI liked [Bennett\'s] debut novel, The Mothers—about the long consequences of an unplanned teenage pregnancy—but I\'d also faulted it for being melodramatic. Now, I\'m recognizing that\'s how Bennett rolls as a novelist: embracing melodrama as a beguiling way to delve into difficult topics. In The Vanishing Half, Bennett takes up a subject perfectly suited to her signature melodramatic style ... Bennett is especially artful in delving into Stella\'s situation, which, at first, seems so cushy, but turns out to be fraught with the daily terror of being found out. ... Again and again, throughout this entertaining and brazenly improbable novel, Bennett stops readers—or at least stopped this white reader—in their tracks with such pointed observations about privilege and racism. As another melodramatic novelist, Charles Dickens, recognized: If you tell people a wild and compelling enough story, they may just listen to things they\'d rather not hear.
RaveThe Washington PostSerritella’s debut is a sweeping and beguiling novel ... Serritella, who is a Harvard grad herself, writes about the campus with an insider’s savvy. She takes readers on jaunts into forgotten graveyards and spooky \'whispering wall\' corners. Oddly, the one area where Serritella’s firsthand knowledge of Harvard falters is in some of the classroom scenes ... a rich, intricately plotted thriller that gathers suspense velocity as Cady runs through the mazelike halls of academe and the winding streets of Cambridge, chasing after clues to the more sinister circumstances of Eric’s death. It’s a testament to Serritella’s sure touch that when Cady’s ghostly companions ultimately make their final departures, Harvard seems duller.
PositiveNPRRoth died in 2018, leaving 31 books behind; like other Roth lovers, I will always want more. Benjamin Taylor\'s new memoir temporarily eases the loss by giving us more of Roth\'s voice in conversation: brilliant, profane, and so very funny .... Taylor summons up anecdotes and clear-eyed assessments of what made Roth tick. There\'s an appealing quality of randomness to this slim memoir that makes it feel like we\'re tagging along with the two friends ... The greatest pleasure of Here We Are is hearing Roth\'s voice again new, especially when he\'s talking about his writing.
PositiveNPRTran\'s loosey-goosey writing style is all over the place in emotional tone and subject—something I might ordinarily find annoying, but kind of appreciate right now. In this confused and scary time, a story about displacement that itself is so scrambled feels just right to me ... In his loose, often funny, and rambling way, Tran talks a lot about the reassuring influence of books ... But the surprise element in Tran\'s coming-of-age story is punk rock ... In actuality and on the pages of this memoir, Tran\'s life goes off-road, defies reading plans or most other kinds of plans. Which makes Sigh, Gone a congenial read for our chaotic time.
RaveThe Washington PostSea Wife is a moody and compelling literary novel about the hidden depths of a marriage. It nods to, but does not fully embrace, the conventions of suspense ... It’s the intricate design of this tale—which Gaige pilots expertly—and its eloquent revelations about the inner workings of the Partlow’s relationship that distinguish Sea Wife, even as the voyage itself (in this case clinging to the coast of Central and South American, into the Caribbean) charts the familiar course of every sea narrative ever written ... To Gaige’s credit, the final resolution of the Partlow’s differences is achieved in a fashion that even the most sharp-eyed reader won’t be able to spot, looming in the distance.
RaveThe Washington PostChances that you’ll be able to put Black’s thriller down once you’ve picked it up? Also slim to none ... This is one of those espionage thrillers for which the word \'taut\' was invented ... Black’s standalone debut places her in that small but stellar company of top-notch suspense writers who have written World World II thrillers featuring female protagonists ... Black’s familiarity with the streets and routines of Paris gives that passage its aura of authenticity. But much more dazzling is the ingenuity with which Black keeps aloft the crucial question of this superior suspense tale: namely, how is Kate ever going to get out of Paris? ... gives readers who are stuck inside the nerve-racking but undeniably liberating image of a rogue female racing and dodging all over the streets of Paris.
PanThe Washington PostThe plot of The Herd is as twisty as one those artful blowouts from the Drybar ... As is standard in a story like this, the women who constitute Eleanor’s closed circle of gal pals take turns stepping into the role of prime suspect ... Each member of the trio takes turns narrating and editing events to flatter herself. But, because Katie, Hana and Eleanor are more \'concepts\' than characters whose voices all sound alike, such a potentially complex narrative structure barely registers. As the story progresses, more suspects, revelations and bodies dutifully pile up ... It’s disappointing that Bartz takes a glossy concept—mayhem in a female-only workspace!—and makes so little of it. If Lilly Pulitzer manufactured suspense novels, they would read like The Herd: colorful, but devoid of imaginative depth.
MixedThe Washington PostIn Wrobel’s reimagining, Patty is a tough and somewhat comical maniac, akin to the more genial incarnations of the Riddler, as portrayed by Jim Carrey and Frank Gorshin ... What ensues—in alternating chapters narrated by Patty and Rose Gold—is a nasty cat-and-mouse game in which victim and victimizer keep changing places. Wrobel’s suspense novel has much the same campy feel as that 1960s cult psychodrama Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? ... The chapter-by-chapter choreography of this creeper is ingenious ... Darling Rose Gold is a maelstrom of a suspense story through which mental illness, maternal meshugas and vengeful rage swirl unchecked. Over-the-top is an adjective that barely does this tale justice; but, then again, the real-life story on which it’s based is even more distastefully baroque.
RaveNPRJen has too much humor and heart as a writer to do a full-out futuristic nightmare. Instead, the feel of The Resisters is more like that noir sequence embedded within It\'s a Wonderful Life ... Life in the America of The Resisters is tense, but the wry tone of Jen\'s characters assures readers that this state of affairs won\'t be permanent ... primarily plot-driven and its appeal rests on its ingenuity, which is unflagging ... I confess: I like the romantic idea of baseball much more than the reality of reading about or watching the game, so I appreciated that Jen kept her \'inside baseball\' descriptions short and sporadic. The power of The Resisters derives, instead, from Jen\'s inventive elaboration on how the change happened; how Americans gratefully handed over their autonomy to a big combo of machines, AI and the omnipotent Internet ... As speculative fiction goes, this inspired vision of how Americans bought into the sedating fantasy of less stress, less thinking and boundless leisure time hits close to the bone. But, with her characteristic generosity and restrained optimism, Jen doesn\'t scold or despair. In The Resisters, she offers hope that, after a long, misbegotten seventh-inning stretch, Americans of the near future will be eager to once again play ball and take up the hard work of participatory democracy.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalFor anyone who’s experienced (or is still experiencing) the dread feeling of being stuck in the life stage of \'becoming,\' when it seems that everyone else has already \'become,\' Lily King’s latest novel, Writers & Lovers, will strike a deep chord. With wit and what reads like deep insider wisdom, Ms. King captures the chronic low-level panic of taking a leap into the artsy unknown and finding yourself adrift, without land or rescue in sight ... Much as Daniel Defoe enthralled the earliest readers of the novel with descriptions of Robinson Crusoe’s fence building and goat milking, Ms. King pays Casey’s exhausting daily labors as a server at Iris the respect of particularity ... a comic and compassionate novel about the cost of (perhaps) sticking with the same dream for too long. It may not have the historical reach of Ms. King’s previous novel, but it shares with that novel a fascination with the difficulty of defining the worth of one’s life when the familiar markers of adult achievement are slow to materialize.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveNPR... a novel that\'s so absorbing, so fully realized that it draws you out of your own constricted situation and expands your sense of possibilities. For me, over the past 10 days or so, the novel that\'s performed that act of deliverance has been The Glass Hotel ... gorgeous and haunting ... This all-encompassing awareness of the mutability of life grows more pronounced as The Glass Hotel reaches its eerie sea change of an ending. In dramatizing so ingeniously how precarious and changeable everything is, Mandel\'s novel is topical in a way she couldn\'t have foreseen when she was writing it.
RaveNPR...profound ... Scratched is a memoir about the allure of perfectionism and the damage done. To the extent that it\'s also a book about writing, Scratched is sort of the anti- Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott\'s classic rumination on writing and life. Lamott extols the freeing possibilities of accepting the inevitability of what she famously calls \'the s***** first draft.\' Tallent, in contrast, takes readers deep into her own internal high-pressure chambers of self-loathing and not-enough-ness — feelings that can goad creativity, but also ultimately shut it down ... Because Tallent is still \'immersed\' in her struggle with perfectionism, Scratched has a driven feel to it as a memoir ... If Scratched were fiction, Tallent would probably reject that ending as too pat. But this tentative embrace of creating something contradictory and new is finally what this oddly enthralling memoir embodies.
Emma Copley Eisenberg
PositiveNPR... a haunting and hard-to-characterize book about restless women and the things that await them on the road ... Because she lived and worked with teenage girls in Pocahontas County on and off for several years but isn\'t a native, [Eisenberg] is suited to the insider-outsider reporter role ... there\'s a deeper dimension to The Third Rainbow Girl that gives it its contemplative power. Eisenberg intertwines her own raw story about coming-into-womanhood into the true crime narrative.
MixedNPRI dozed off twice while reading it. Most of the book is kind of blah, composed of platitudinous-corporate-speak-intermixed-with-pallid-anecdotes ... Even though, Oprah-esque, Sandberg resolves to speak her \'truth,\' mostly mild confessions follow ... If Mary Wollstonecraft had written this tepidly, the first women\'s movement might have wilted before it ever took root ... But, but, but ... there are still some compelling reasons why, echoing some of Sandberg\'s supporters, I\'d optimistically slide Lean In into my teenage daughter\'s bookshelf. First of all, the final two chapters of the book are more hard-hitting, riskier, less worried about alienating those readers, like stay-at-home moms, who may not share Sandberg\'s vision ... toward the end of Lean In, some of her intellectual charisma breaks through the blandness. Lean In is worth reading because, even though many of its observations about internalized sexism may be old hat to us older feminists, they\'re, sadly, still true ... Lean In may not be the most impassioned or entertaining feminist manifesto ever written and, sure, Sandberg is somewhat blinkered by her big bucks and privilege and inhibited by corporate caution. Yet, it\'s great to have a woman with such a platform speak up about sexism.
RaveThe Washington PostSometimes, voice is all ... it’s their singular voices that give...characters their life and complexity. So it is with Jai, a 9-year-old Indian boy who’s the narrator and main character of Deepa Anappara’s extraordinary debut novel ... The moving and unpredictable novel Anappara wrote defies easy classification. Given the sometimes capricious exploits of its young investigators, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line could conceivably be shelved in the YA section ... Yet, the tale darkens into urban noir as it reaches its awful conclusion. By story’s end, Jai has grown more hesitant, humbled by tragedy and evils beyond his once-childish imaginings, Even so, his remarkable voice retains a stubborn lightness, a will to believe in the possibility of deliverance in this fallen world.
Jean Stafford, Ed. by Kathryn Davis
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalJean Stafford’s novels are a revelation for anyone who knows her only from her many short stories ... Stafford’s most striking gift as a fiction writer was her ability to create characters who simultaneously repel and call forth sympathy from her readers. There is an insistent sense in reading her work of a writer who almost revels in irritated confrontations with life’s disappointments, while also conveying a sense of profound if always temporary relief at their deferral. Sort of like an itch, one that these novels might just prompt in a new generation of Stafford’s readers.
PositiveThe Washington PostIt is humanly impossible to summarize his teeming, dizzying, ricocheting, madcap (and somewhat mad) story lines ... Out of this boundary-crossing background, Ide has fashioned a crime series that itself crisscrosses lines of identity, genre and tone ... The bizarre mystery that kicks off Hi Five, the fourth novel in the IQ series, is so complicated that it strains what Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot called his \'little grey cells\' ... The end result of all Ide’s frenetic literary machinations, however, is a crime novel that gives readers a sense of the totality of life in all its possibility: comedy, violence, irrationality and heartbreak. It’s no longer a fresh observation to say that Ide is an original as a suspense writer, but, certainly, every novel he writes — including Hi Five — feels like a new invention.
RaveNPR... a literary novel, to be sure, with nuanced character development and arresting language; yet, its narrative hurtles forward with the intensity of a suspense tale ... American Dirt\'s most profound achievement, though, is something I never could\'ve been told about nor anticipated. Of all the \'What if?\' novels I\'ve read in recent years—many of them dystopian—American Dirt is the novel that, for me, nails what it\'s like to live in this age of anxiety, where it feels like anything can happen, at any moment ... Cummins\' novel brings to life the ordeal of individual migrants, who risk everything to try to cross into the U.S. But, in its largest ambitions, the novel also captures what it\'s like to have the familiar order of things fall away and the rapidity with which we humans, for better or worse, acclimatize ourselves to the abnormal. Propulsive and affecting, American Dirt compels readers to recognize that we\'re all but a step or two away from \'join[ing] the procession.\'
RaveThe Washington Post... extraordinary ... the mundane has been made menacing ... Moore is an astute social observer. Her depictions of Mickey’s isolation are sharp-eyed to the point of pain ... Moore is every bit as deft in constructing suspense ... nervously twists, turns and subverts readers’ expectations till its very last pages. Simultaneously, it also manages to grow into something else: a sweeping, elegiac novel about a blighted city. As Chandler did for various sections of Los Angeles, Moore — who lives in Philadelphia — excavates Kensington and surrounding areas in Philadelphia, illuminating the rot, the shiny facades of gentrification and the sturdy endurance of small pockets of community life.
Fuminori Nakamura, trans. by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates
MixedThe Washington PostThough elegant, The Thief is less a crime novel than a meditation on crime. Plot, that guiltiest of literary pleasures, is in short supply here. Instead, there’s a lot of reflection on the meta-meaning of theft and of a shadow life lived outside convention ... I hankered for the meat-and-potatoes home cookin’ of Mickey Spillane, even as Nakamura was furiously serving up his own fusion of Kafka and Dostoevsky ... Throughout The Thief, Nakamura conjures up a bleak universe where everything looks and feels seedy. Even the most incidental scenes contain a dash of repulsion ... Give me a good bang-bang, shoot-shoot car chase any day.
MixedNPRBrain on Fire was a tense, yet ultimately reassuring read, largely because of the interventions of that one doctor who saw things others missed. But the figure at the center of Cahalan\'s new book is more vexed and, as a result, The Great Pretender tells a blurrier story about diagnoses and outcomes ... Cahalan seems at sea at this end of this book. I think she went in intending to write one kind of book — about a reformer and his crusade to expose the tyranny of psychiatric labels — and, then, inadvertently ended up writing an exposé about the faulty policing of scientific research papers and the professionals who publish them. The Great Pretender is still worth reading, because it illuminates a game-changing moment in the history of psychiatry in this country; it just isn\'t as satisfying a book as Brain on Fire because it ends in the muddled middle of things. The patient, so to speak — in this case, the field of psychiatry itself —remains riddled with afflictions, without a sharp-eyed diagnostician at the door, ready to save the day.
RaveThe Washington PostInitially, suspense fans might wonder just how many times we can amble down these familiar mean streets without feeling like the pavement is wearing thin. But, almost as soon as they arise, our doubts dissipate. In the hands of an inspired writer like Liam McIlvanney, it’s the very familiarity of the hard-boiled mystery formula—burnished to perfection—that gives The Quaker its sinister sheen of greatness ... Every aspect of The Quaker is superb: the desolate urban atmosphere of Glasgow in the 1960s; the painful solitude of McCormack and the bullying he experiences from the colleagues whose work he’s scrutinizing; and a suspense plot with more wrinkles in it than our worried hero’s brow ... McIlvanney doesn’t so much update the classic hard-boiled formula as he reminds us of its enduring dark beauty.
RaveNPR...it\'s such a minty fresh delight to open up Kevin Wilson\'s debut novel,...and feel the revitalizing blast of original thought, robust invention, screwball giddiness ... This premise could easily have devolved into pop psychodrama, but think, instead, of something like Little Miss Sunshine — a family story that\'s out-of-the-box, and funny, and, also, genuinely moving. Wilson\'s inventive genius never stops for a rest break ... Early on in the novel, we\'re told that the strange art the Fangs create has been glowingly described by critics as \'choreographed spontaneity.\' Wilson might as well have been writing a review for his own strange and wonderful novel, for The Family Fang indeed reads as a work of \'choreographed spontaneity\' that will linger in your mind long after the mall has closed and the mess in the restaurant has been cleaned up.
RaveThe Washington PostGrisham has done it again ... terrific ... is nuanced in its moral vision ... Post is a driven and likable loner whom, I hope, Grisham will bring back in future novels. After all, as The Guardians makes clear, there’s plenty of work left for an innocence lawyer to do.
RaveNPRThe Submission is a gorgeously written novel of ideas about America in the wake of Sept. 11 ... Maybe the most audacious question that\'s posed by Amy Waldman\'s debut novel, however, is the implicit one that lingers long after a reader finishes it: Namely, could it be that a decade after the attacks, America finally has the Sept. 11 novel — one that does justice, artistically and historically, to the aftershocks of that day? ... The Submission distinguishes itself by its panoramic scope and, also, by the ease with which it pulls off the literary magic trick of being at once poetic and polemical. Arguments about America are hashed out relentlessly on the pages of this novel, yet Waldman never stints on character development, plot or the pleasures of her inventive language.
RaveNPRLots of critics routinely make light references to Greek myth and literature, but in Mendelsohn\'s writing such connections mean something, they illuminate more than his own glibness ... The one flat essay in this collection is, unfortunately, is the one readers won\'t need to be sold on: namely, the Game of Thrones essay....it\'s \'off\' in its sense of audience, containing so much plot summary that devoteés of the show will be bored and non-initiates will be numbed ... Mendelsohn\'s rare fail makes you appreciate just how hard it is to pull off his distinctive blend of storytelling energy, erudition and emotional resonance. Nowhere is that charmed triad more in evidence than in the final autobiographical section of this collection ... To read a signature Mendelsohn essay is to be educated and entertained, and, always, freshly aware of how much more there is to read and know.
RaveNPR...there barely is a plot in Panic in a Suitcase. That\'s not a criticism: what we get instead of a sweeping story are a multitude of exuberant set pieces about modern émigré life, animated by Akhtiorskaya\'s insider knowledge and her offbeat way with words ... Panic in a Suitcase updates the classic coming-to-America tale, making it more open-ended. Indeed, Akhtiorskaya\'s immigrants find it comically difficult to commit to a fresh start, given that so much old baggage keeps turning up on their doorstep.
RaveNPRBefore I read Adelle Waldman\'s brilliant debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. I had about as much interest in reading about the hip, young literary types who\'ve colonized Brooklyn as I do in watching Duck Dynasty, that reality show about a family of bearded Luddites who live in the Louisiana swamps ... but Waldman, who is herself a hip young literary person living in Brooklyn, has written such a crisp, comic novel of manners and ideas about her own tribe that I was completely won over. I inhaled this slim novel; now I want to go back and read it again, to savor Waldman\'s mordant take on work, love and cannibalism among the up-and-coming Brooklyn intelligentsia ... One of Waldman\'s great achievements is the way she so thoroughly sublets Nate\'s head so that we see situations, and especially the women, in his life through Nate\'s own narrow window, curtained by self-regard ... The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is a sharp and assured tale about a sharp and assured young man, who often acts like a dog.
RaveNPR...[a] moody and ingenious tale ... French brilliantly evokes the isolation of a Gothic landscape out of the Brontes and transposes it to a luxury suburban development gone bust ... like all superior detective fiction, French\'s novels are as much social criticism as they are whodunit ... Broken Harbor gets a lot more deliciously complicated and chaotic before any illusion of order is restored. The construction of the houses in that blasted development may be shoddy, but not so French\'s plot and characters. They\'re as sound and neatly fitting as a coffin lid.
RaveThe Washington PostThe Secret Place, French’s fifth Dublin Murder Squad novel, pries open the hermetically sealed world of teenagers at a tony girls’ prep school and lets readers peer into the toxic stew of hormones and homicidal rivalries roiling within ... French is exquisitely sensitive to the look and manner of mean girls: the mocking stares, the whisper campaigns, the delicate skill with which cliques eviscerate the outsider ... The Secret Place is another eerie triumph for French. By story’s end, she simultaneously makes you wistful for the galloping intensity of lost adolescence and grateful to leave the confines of St. Kilda’s with mind and body intact.
PositiveNPRIn The Testaments, Atwood explicitly wears the mantle that The Handmaid\'s Tale conferred upon her: that is, literary social critic and seer extraordinaire ... all about suspense: It\'s plot driven, whereas The Handmaid\'s Tale was a novel of vision, voice and mood ... What The Testaments lacks in eeriness, it gains in entertainment. Atwood herself seems lighter, even a little frivolous here: For instance, she bestows goofy names on some of the Aunts (like Aunt Estée and Aunt Sarahlee) and has them sit down for tea in the Schlafly Café. Dare I say, The Testaments is more \'fun\' to read than its predecessor ... It\'s a tribute to the greatness of The Handmaid\'s Tale that I and so many other readers, particularly female readers, have been willing and eager to re-enter Atwood\'s sinister dystopian republic of Birthmobiles and Prayvaganzas. If I sound mildly disappointed in The Testaments, it\'s paradoxically because the novel so kindly (and perhaps a little too easily) gives me what I most want: that is, the promise of an end to Gilead.
Nancy Hale, Ed. by Lauren Groff
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalHale was a writer of remarkable range—in tone and subject as well as quality. Variety is the one element that characterizes her work; otherwise, it’s difficult to say what makes Hale’s style \'distinct.\' Some stories describe nature with freshness and precision ... Hale was particularly deft at placing herself within the psyches of unhappy children afflicted by a conviction that there was something essentially wrong with them. Hale was also an alert chronicler of the class prejudices and racism of her time, but the quality of these more \'socially conscious\' stories is erratic ... Not all of Hale’s stories are worth remembering, but Where the Light Falls presents a convincing case that literary culture did indeed \'forget\' the best of her work, all too fast.
RaveNPRJones\' voice and sensibility are so distinct that he turns one of the oldest of literary genres inside out and upside down ... at once explicitly raunchy, mean, nuanced, loving and melancholy. It\'s sometimes hard to read and harder to put down. Jones\' memoir effectively deep-sixes any illusions I had that it must\'ve been a little easier in recent decades to come of age as a queer black boy in Texas ... a raw and eloquent memoir. I don\'t think I\'m taking away from the particularity of Jones\' experience when I say that Jones also speaks to how difficult it is for nearly everybody to hold onto to that vulnerable construction we call our \'selves.\' Jones reminds us that an Invisible Man, illuminated only with a bare bulb, is not only unseen by others — he is barely seen by himself.
RaveThe Washington PostWhat kind of suspense writer would be so reckless as to invoke Henry James’s masterpiece of terror and ambiguity and expect to see her own work do anything but suffer in the comparison? Happily, the answer is: a superb suspense writer who is dead set on making her own distinctive mark on the governess-alone-with-weird-children-in-an isolated-house formula. The Turn of the Key pays scrupulous homage to James’s The Turn of the Screw and also slyly updates it ... Ware is a master at signaling the presence of evil at the most mundane moments ... Ware’s gifts for structuring an ingenious suspense narrative really come to the fore ... Ware pulls out a stunner on the penultimate page that radically alters how we interpret everything that’s come before ... I daresay even Henry James would be impressed.
RaveNPRWare is a master of atmosphere and, here, the off-kilter weirdness of the old house itself seeps into every crack of this story ... \'Get out of there!\' we jumpy readers find ourselves urging, but Rowan stays put for reasons we won\'t understand until the final breathless twist of this thriller ... Book titles aren\'t protected under copyright law, but if you\'re going to lift titles by the likes of Henry James, you\'d better bring your \'A\' game. Fortunately, it seems that Ware [doesn\'t] know how to play or write any other way.
RaveNPR... a smart, propulsive story about racism, class and the limits of individual possibility. It mostly avoids those compromises that socially-conscious novels sometimes feel obliged to make: namely, trading off complexity of character and literary style in favor of \'message.\' Instead, Zentner vividly realizes Jessup\'s daily world here ... [the book] has some of the feel of a YA novel: We see things through Jessup\'s fraught teenage perspective and the focus of the story is on his clumsy struggle to separate from and, yet, still love his virulently racist family. I can imagine the novel sparking heated discussions in high school English classes, as well as in book groups for the more mature ... a pretty unsparing story about how one\'s fate is determined so much by the random luck of one\'s family, but it\'s also merciful enough to leave the exit door of reinvention cracked open.
Sarah M. Broom
RaveNPR... extraordinary ... immediate, raw, sometimes profane and even funny ... Broom\'s memoir itself is a force that cracks open that little Yellow House and exposes the decades of life lived within ... Along with everything else it illuminates, The Yellow House offers a searing evocation of the long-term toxic consequences of shame ... solidly reconstructs what the forces of nature and institutionalized racism succeeded in knocking down.
RaveNPR...deft orchestration of absurdity and existential dread distinguishes Ciment\'s style. That\'s why the situation of Ciment\'s latest novel, The Body in Question is so perfectly suited to her powers as a novelist...The droll and the horrifying mingle in the flat air of the courtroom and the limbo of the juror\'s lounge ... All of this could be the stuff of melodrama, but Ciment\'s incisive language turns The Body in Question into a profound story about mortality and the mysteries of human behavior. By trial\'s end, we\'re told that Hannah and the other jurors have \'run out of small talk and can no longer abide one another\'s company without alcohol.\' But, as a reader, I happily could\'ve been sequestered for a while longer within the confines of Ciment\'s smart and disturbing novel.
RaveNPRLaura Lippman\'s new suspense novel is called Lady in the Lake, a pretty straightforward purloining of the title of Raymond Chandler\'s fourth Philip Marlowe novel. And that\'s not Lippman\'s only act of appropriation ... Lippman has already weighed in in interviews and articles about her controversial decision as a white writer to adopt the voice of a black woman as one of her main characters. For me as a reader, what\'s incontestable is the power that Lippman bestows on Cleo\'s post-mortem voice and presence. Cleo is the still center around which her living counterpart, a white Jewish woman named Maddie Schwartz, frantically orbits ... Chandler\'s The Lady in the Lake was a middlin\' novel; but Lippman\'s is a stunner, one that not only gives voice to that murdered \'lady in the lake,\' but to a diverse crowd of Baltimoreans: Narrators include a jewelry store clerk, a beat cop and a player for the Baltimore Orioles. And, as much as this is an atmospheric suspense story based on two true-crime cases, it\'s also a compelling female adventure tale of Maddie, at mid-life, coming into her own amidst a rich historical depiction of 1960s Baltimore...
RaveNPRLate Migrations is, to my mind, a perfect book to read in the summer. Renkl scatters short autobiographical essays in between short nature pieces, so that her life story and her life\'s passion intertwine, like a fence post and a trumpet vine ... This is the kind of writing that makes me just want to stay put, reread and savor everything about that moment ... a vivid and original essay collection.
RaveThe Washington PostPerhaps it’s not even fair to compare Mina’s previous novels to Conviction because this latest is so different, it seems to have been written by someone else—some glorious genetically engineered composite of Mina herself along with Daphne du Maurier...fellow Scot Helen MacInnes...and, especially toward the end, Lisa Scottoline...Conviction is spectacular; if you, dear reader, can sanely spread your enjoyment of it out over, say, a week, you’re a more disciplined consumer of suspense fiction than I am. I inhaled this novel in two extended sittings in one day ... As much as it is a weird suspense tale in which both ghosts and bullets fly through the air, Conviction is a giddy celebration of the art of storytelling itself ... it’s a testament to Mina’s considerable storytelling gifts that by the end of Conviction, I wanted to go right back to the beginning and read all those intertwined tales all over again.
Mary Beth Keane
RaveNPRMary Beth Keane\'s new novel is...one of the most unpretentiously profound books I\'ve read in a long time ... By switching perspective in every chapter, so that the narrative moves forward through the voice and world view of almost every member of the two families here, Keane develops her characters far beyond glib stereotypes ... Though Keane is younger than most of her characters, she writes with deep familiarity and precision about the lives of this particular generation of blue-collar Catholic New Yorkers ... As a writer, Keane reminds me a lot of Ann Patchett: Both have the magical ability to seem to be telling \'only\' a closely-observed domestic tale that transforms into something else deep and, yes, universal. In Keane\'s case, that \'something else\' is a story about forgiveness and acceptance—qualities that sound gooey, but are so hard to achieve in life. And, in the final moments of this modestly magnificent novel, even that blah title of Ask Again, Yes is ingeniously redeemed.
RaveNPRIt\'s pretty rare for a writer to produce a novel that wins the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and, then, a scant three years later, bring out another novel that\'s even more extraordinary ... It\'s a masterpiece squared, rooted in history and American mythology and, yet, painfully topical in its visions of justice and mercy erratically denied ... Whitehead\'s novel is short and intense; its chapters as compact as the isolation cells that Nickel boys are thrown into and sometimes never leave ... You may think you can guess how that effort ends, but you\'d only be partially right. The Nickel Boys issues a complex and deeply affecting verdict on whether or not the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice. But my \'verdict,\' so to speak, on The Nickel Boys is much more straightforward: It\'s a great American novel.
PositiveNPR... opened my eyes to so many things ... Horwitz rightly prides himself on being a curious and empathetic freestyle conversationalist ... every bit as enlightening and alive with detail, absurdity and colorful characters as Confederates in the Attic was. That said, though, at a time when the American divide seems deeper and more entrenched, both books strike me as more somber than comic.
RaveNPR[Vuong\'s] words are liquid, flowing, rolling, teasing, mighty and overpowering. When Vuong\'s mother gave him the oh-so-apt name of Ocean, she inadvertently called into being a writer whose language some of us readers could happily drown in ... Like so many immigrant writers before him, Vuong has taken the English he acquired with difficulty and not only made it his own—he\'s made it better.
RaveThe Washington Post... taut, intelligent psychological thriller that will reassure just about every anxious mom who reads it that it’s okay to mess up a little with your kids ... Thomas plots her twists and turns so ingeniously (with a slippery scattering of red herrings) that even veteran suspense readers will be floored. For all its narrative inventiveness, however, the greatest appeal of A Good Enough Mother is its sharp rendering of the “active listening” that goes on in Ruth’s therapy sessions and supervisory meetings with colleagues. These conversations typically unfold haltingly over several pages, and when psychological breakthroughs occur, they’re every bit as startling as the thriller revelations ... Thomas joins the ranks of first-rate masters of misdirection who delight in artfully distracting us readers from the terrible truths planted right before our eyes.
PositiveNPRBlake is an accomplished storyteller...She\'s also hip to the fact that this kind of lush historical novel — tied to the annual visits of a wealthy clan gathering to crack lobster tails by the sea — absolutely reeks of off-putting privilege and literary mothballs. No matter: The Guest Book proudly owns the appeal of an old-fashioned sweeping storyline, and in so doing, complicates many of its characters beyond their shallow first impressions. In fact, one of the most engaging characters here defends the essential human yearning for a good story.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe eight stories here range from good to really good, with one masterpiece, The Prospectors ... exposes the central core of the strange in the familiar landmarks of American history ... horror always cohabits with humor ... The stories in this superb collection swoop into all three of those worlds, but, speaking as a reader, I always feel like I’m transported to a literary \'green world\' whenever I open a book by Karen Russell.
RaveNPRThe Swerve is one of those brilliant works of non-fiction that\'s so jam-packed with ideas and stories it literally boggles the mind. But throughout this profusion of riches, it seems to me, a moral emerges: something about the fragility of cultural inheritance and how it needs to be consciously safeguarded. Greenblatt, of course, doesn\'t preach, but, instead, as a master storyteller, he transports his readers deep into the ancient and late medieval past; he makes us shiver at his recreation of that crucial moment in a German monastery when modern civilization, as we\'ve come to know it, depended on a swerve of the Poggio\'s grasping fingers.
RaveThe Washington Post\"... Freudenberger has crafted a gorgeous literary novel about loss and human limitations ... [A passage included in the review] is a miniature model of Freudenberger’s dazzling writing style in Lost and Wanted ... That [one of the novel\'s] plot [twists] doesn’t feel contrived or melt into a gooey resolution further demonstrates Freudenberger’s penetrating imagination ... Lost and Wanted ends with its own ingenious version of a \'big bang\' that leaves the Helen, our dedicated woman of science, a bit more open to the tantalizing promise of that theological designation.\
PositiveNPR\"... chatty, impassioned ... There\'s so much great material here — including Patrick\'s childhood at Hearst Castle and her early career as one of Disney\'s first female animators — that [Milicent Patrick\'s] own life story could be a film. O\'Meara is a dogged researcher and a fierce partisan (she even sports a tattoo of Patrick and the Creature on her left forearm), but I must warn readers that this book should be rated \'O\' for \'Ohmigod, where was an editor?\' O\'Meara\'s prose is bogged down in lame jokes and Wikipedia-level historical context. Still, I think it\'s worth putting up with these transgressions for Patrick\'s story, which, as O\'Meara points out, has resonances for today, when women in Hollywood still find themselves in the company of monsters.\
PositiveNPR\"Reading Yuval Taylor\'s new book, Zora and Langston, may be the next best experience [to riding in a car with the two figures]. Writing in a vivid anecdotal style, Taylor\'s book carries readers along on the giddy, and ultimately, very bumpy ride that was Hurston and Hughes\' friendship ... Taylor dives in with gusto, describing the delights of 1920s Harlem...\
PositiveThe Washington PostCan be thought of as an atmospheric tale of macabre multitasking. Kent serves up a twisting and complex plot, but the novel’s chief appeal lies in the tense character of Bridget, who learns that a life lived under the radar can’t protect her from the creepy-crawly things that live there, too.
RaveNPR\"Even the best essay collections routinely contain some filler, but of the 12 essays here, there\'s not one that even comes close to being forgettable. Bernard\'s language is fresh, poetically compact and often witty ... In Black Is the Body, Bernard proves herself to be a revelatory storyteller of race in America who can hold her own with some of those great writers she teaches.\
PositiveNPR\"Here\'s a sentence of critical praise I never expected to utter: The descriptions of basketball games in this novel are riveting ... Lucy\'s sweaty, all-in passion for basketball, which Czapnik captures so vividly in The Falconer, gives me a sharp sense of what I missed out on ... In The Falconer, Dana Czapnik displays this same gift: In bringing Lucy to life, she sees the whole game.\
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Lauren Wilkinson’s new novel, American Spy, is extraordinary in a lot of ways — most obviously because it places a female African American intelligence officer, Marie Mitchell, at the center of a Cold War tale of political espionage. But also striking is the novel’s deeper recognition that, to some extent, rudimentary tradecraft is something all of her African American characters have learned as an everyday survival skill ... Wilkinson begins with a tense opening that assures readers that American Spy will try its best to deliver action along with edification ... American Spy is a morally nuanced and atmospheric political thriller.\
PositiveChicago Tribune\"Lauren Wilkinson\'s new novel, American Spy, is extraordinary in a lot of ways - most obviously because it places a female African-American intelligence officer, Marie Mitchell, at the center of a Cold War tale of political espionage. But also striking is the novel\'s deeper recognition that, to some extent, rudimentary tradecraft is something all of her African-American characters have learned as an everyday survival skill ... American Spy is a morally nuanced and atmospheric political thriller.\
PositiveNPR\"As to my skepticism about whether or not such a baldly relevant political subject as the fate of undocumented migrant children can be transformed into art, Luiselli\'s narrator — her semi stand-in in this novel — asks those same questions, worrying whether her documentary will be \'moralistic\' \'boring,\' and heavy handed. In response, the novel Luiselli has created vaults over those pitfalls, thanks mostly to the inexhaustible buoyancy of its language. But be forewarned: that soaring writing style is practically the only uplifting element in this fictional travelogue ... Lost Children Archive is epic in its assured embrace of American history, literature, pop culture and, yes, politics. Luiselli smoothly integrates different ways of telling the same story: fragments of poems, a bravura sentence that runs on for 20 pages, Polaroid photos and other documents, like migrant mortality reports ... That\'s really the point of all of Luiselli\'s elegant exertions in this novel: to draw readers into the gut realization that, if not for luck, the grace of God, money — whatever — these lost children could be our children. Not every reader is going to like that message; not everyone is going to want to go along for this rough ride. But there should be no worries about Luiselli\'s up-to-the-minute subject. Lost Children Archive ratifies the power of great fiction to expose our deepest desires, fears, and hopes as we stumble through a world we share with others, yet barely understand.\
PositiveNPR\"... evocative, suspenseful, and bleak ... It\'s [Lia\'s] voice — sensitive, needy and ultimately angry — that makes the world of The Water Cure come to life ... The Water Cure is both otherworldly and very much of this world in its deep pessimism about the fate of the planet, as well as the fate of equitable relations between men and women. It\'s not a pretty or uplifting novel, but it\'s effective — and clearly it\'s the kind of story that Mackintosh and a lot of other authors feel they need to be writing — and we need to be reading — right now.\
RaveNPR\"Sarah Moss possesses the rare light touch when it comes to melding the uncanny with social commentary ... Moss vividly renders the natural world here, coaxing readers into experiencing everything from stepping on a pebble in thin moccasins to being sucked into a bog ... Ghost Wall is such a weird and distinctive story: It could be labeled a supernatural tale, a coming-of-age chronicle, even a timely meditation on the various meanings of walls themselves. All this, packed into a beautifully written story of 130 pages. No wonder I read it twice within one week.\
Patrick Radden Keefe
RaveNPR\"... extraordinary ... Smoothly wound together, [the narratives in the book] compose an epic account of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the bloody sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants that extended from the late 1960s to the Good Friday peace accord of 1998 ... Keefe is a storyteller who captures the complexities of a historical moment by digging deep into the lives of people on all sides of the conflict ... At the end of his panoramic book, which gathers together history, politics and biography, Keefe tightens the focus back to the mystery of McConville\'s abduction and murder. And, as in the most ingenious crime stories, Keefe unveils a revelation — lying, so to speak, in plain sight — that only further complicates the moral dimensions of his tale.\
PositiveNPR\"The great poignancy of reading Normal People derives from being totally swept along by the force of Marianne\'s and Connell\'s psychological insights into each other or events and then witnessing how the solid certainty of those insights dissolves four months later or seven months later ... Rooney nails the bitter smarts of a certain kind of willfully odd teenage girl ... Normal People is a nuanced and flinty love story about two young people who \'get\' each other, despite class differences and the interference of their own vigorous personal demons. But honestly, Sally Rooney could write a novel about bath mats and I\'d still read it. She\'s that good and that singular a writer.\
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"... Ms. Harman is a tireless researcher and a droll stylist. Those same gifts are in evidence here ... Given its juicy subject and accomplished author, Murder by the Book should be a knockout read; instead, it’s just okay, one of those works of nonfiction whose particulars quickly fade away. Regrettably, Ms. Harman’s own investigations here proceed all too effortfully \'by the book\' to be revelatory ... Lord William defies Ms. Harman’s best efforts to flesh him out, existing on the page as a human doppelgänger of a Clue game piece ... Reading is always a potentially risky activity, even if, as in Murder by the Book, all that readers must hazard is a few hours of gentle boredom.\
PositiveNPR\"Now, in her new and... narratively ambitious novel called Come With Me, Schulman splices together an old-school family drama with high-tech fantasy: It\'s a rich, closely observed story about regrets and stupid risk-taking set mostly among the coders, crunchers and ordinary citizens of Palo Alto ... Come With Me is ingeniously structured around three non-consecutive days in the lives — both virtual and real — of Amy and her family. There are a lot of storylines here, as well as a lot of humor and heart. Amy is the fully realized moral center of the novel, intrigued by innovation, but also graced with a witty feminist skepticism about the male-dominated tech industry ... [The novel] poignantly captures the wonder, as well as the cluelessness, of how we live now.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"Kingdom of the Blind is the 14th mystery in the Inspector Gamache series — and it’s a spellbinder ... Kingdom of the Blind is yet another outstanding Gamache adventure. In her by-now characteristic fashion, Penny simultaneously unspools several suspense narratives, each of them accruing power and threat, faster and faster, until the novel closes in a crescendo of violence, unmasking and regret. Whew ... Kingdom of the Blind is an ingenious mystery that follows a thoughtful group of beloved characters navigating their way through a fallen world. What more could a mystery reader — or any reader for that matter — want?\
Elliott J. Gorn
PositiveNPR[Let the People See] builds on new evidence discovered by the FBI in 2005 to present a detailed reconstruction of Till\'s kidnapping and killing in Mississippi ... Gorn also dives deep into a legal analysis of the transcripts of the trial ... But what\'s most interesting about Gorn\'s book is his final section, called \'Memory,\' in which he traces how Till\'s story, which seems so well-known today, came very close to \'pass[ing] into oblivion\' ... Let the People See is a timely book about the fragility of collective memory ... a vivid reminder of just how easy it is for people not to see things they\'d rather not see.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalGreat white literary fathers are not in vogue right now ... Forget those preconceptions, however, because Mr. Tóibín’s investigation into the lives and legacies of what he calls \'three prodigal fathers\' is juicy, wry and compelling ... the august academic origins of Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know don’t cramp Mr. Tóibín’s relaxed first-person style here ... Mr. Tóibín is writing here as a psychoanalytic literary biographer, somewhat in the Janet Malcolm mode. Thus, like its subject, the critical approach of Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know is also out of fashion these days. But, if a critic is going to rely on Freud, what better place to do it in than a book on fathers and sons? Mr. Tóibín’s approach yields especially charged assessments of John B. Yeats and John Stanislaus Joyce—both of whom were Olympian procrastinators and scroungers ... Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know is an entertaining and revelatory little book about the vexed relationships between these three pairs of difficult fathers and their difficult sons.
PositiveNPROnce upon a time in America, ordinary people turned to Roosevelt for advice, and as these columns attest, she repaid their trust with responses that are downright startling to read today because of how seriously she took even their most mundane problems ... Although she was, by nature and upbringing, emotionally reticent, Roosevelt sometimes responded to the genuine need of her questioners with an openness that was rare then and almost unimaginable now ... As trivial a cultural artifact as an advice column may seem to be, Roosevelt\'s If You Ask Me columns reveal multitudes about the extraordinary relationship she forged with her fellow Americans, of all races, young and old. There\'s something very democratic about this 20-plus-year monthly \'conversation\' of sorts that Roosevelt conducted on the pages of popular women\'s magazines. People felt they had a right to contact Roosevelt and she felt she had a responsibility to respond.
RaveNPR\"What a tonic this book is for anyone who feels the world is too much with us these days! Maliciously witty, erudite and ingeniously constructed A Ladder to the Sky explores the cold outer limits of ambition ... Part of Boyne\'s own brilliance as a storyteller is that, up until the very last chapter when we readers finally enter into Maurice\'s mind, we hear, instead, from a succession of narrators fated to become Maurice\'s prey. That approach only intensifies Maurice\'s enigmatic allure ... Boyne himself doesn\'t share Maurice\'s difficulties with generating plot: A Ladder to the Sky keeps twisting and turning in such slyly unpredictable ways that, honestly, I sometimes laughed out loud at Boyne\'s ingenuity.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"Dark Sacred Night is billed as the first \'Ballard and Bosch novel\' and it is ingenious, frantically suspenseful, and very, very bleak ... Let’s just say that in the spectacular final third of Dark Sacred Night, the two detectives learn the hard way that they have each other’s backs.\
RaveThe Washington Post...trust me, you are in for a singular mystery experience ... her cases seem like they’re taking place on one of those old Anytown, U.S.A., Twilight Zone sets. The Infinite Blacktop is the most intricately plotted of the series ... The peculiar charisma of Gran’s mysteries derives not only from her wayward plots but also from eccentric details.
MixedThe Washington PostIn The Gatsby Affair, Taylor idealizes Zelda and carries forward the tradition (perfected by Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast) of diminishing Scott by emasculating him ... Most of these tidbits have been reshuffled time and again in earlier biographies. The new angle Taylor purports to offer is access to [Zelda\'s rumored lover Edouard] Jozan’s letters and recollections by his daughter Martine ... Regrettably, what Taylor mostly serves up is a pile of unsifted information about Jozan’s ancestry, schooling and military training. Descriptions here are so dense with trivia they make reading an act of the will ... Perhaps it’s a sign of desperation that Taylor resorts to reading Zelda’s and Jozan’s astrological signs ... The Gatsby Affair is one of those wobbly biographies where a reader constantly flips to the \'Notes\' section, only to be frustrated by the lack of sources tethering pronouncements like: \'Edouard Jozan was the type of man about whom Zelda always had fantasized.\'
RaveNPRLing Ma\'s Severance, however, is an unusual apocalyptic novel. Satiric and playful — as well as scary — it lends readers the assurance that humor will linger even as the world winds down to an end ... Ling Ma is an assured and inventive storyteller ... Like the best speculative fiction, Severance also aims for more than chills and thrills: without being preachy, Ling Ma\'s story reflects on the nature of human identity and how much the repetitive tasks we perform come to define who we are ...
Ma\'s vivid apocalyptic novel is something of a sardonic wake-up call.
MixedThe Washington Post\"It’s very eerie; it’s also quite hefty and static for long stretches. Whether you find the novel satisfying will probably depend on how much you care about action vs. atmosphere. French expertly crafts a cloud cover of thickening menace throughout this extended narrative, but the storm doesn’t break until the very end. By then, even the most patient reader may be excused for being exhausted from all the bleak moodiness that preceded it ... It would be nearly impossible for any novelist to conjure up a plot payoff that justifies all this anticipation. French tries, but the climactic revelations here inevitably seem too little, too late.\
PositiveNPR\"In Washington Black, Edugyan has created a wonder of an adventure story, powered by the helium of fantasy, but also by the tender sensibility of its aspiring young hero, Wash Black ... Certainly, much of the pleasure of reading Washington Black derives from Edugyan\'s ingenious storytelling gifts, but her novel is more than just a buoyant bauble ... Washington Black is an unconventional and often touching novel about the search for transcendence above categories.\
PositiveThe Washington Post\"By combing through court documents and newspaper accounts and interviewing surviving friends and family members, Weinman has evocatively reconstructed Sally’s nightmare, as well as the sexual mores of mid-20th-century America ... Weinman has compassionately given Sally Horner pride of place once more in her own life, a life that was first brutally warped by Frank La Salle, and then appropriated by one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century.\
RaveNPR\"Smarsh\'s new memoir is called Heartland and it tries to tell more of that \'whole truth\' ... Though Smarsh is now a journalist with a graduate degree, she hasn\'t written the predictable \'up by my own bootstraps\' saga of individual perseverance and class ascent. Quite the contrary. Smarsh spent 15 years researching her memoir and her lens is unusually wide and deep ... Heartland deepens our understanding of the crushing ways in which class shapes possibility in this country. It\'s an unsentimental tribute to the working-class people Smarsh knows — the farmers, office clerks, trash collectors, waitresses — whose labor is often invisible or disdained ... In Heartland, Smarsh powerfully talks back to a world that mostly told her and her family they were disposable.\
RaveNPR\"There\'s life in the old road trip saga yet. That\'s just one of the many things that Gary Shteyngart\'s spectacular, sprawling new novel, Lake Success, affirms ... More than \'just\' an artistic tour de force, Lake Success aims—and succeeds—in saying something big about America today ... He captures what one of his own favorite writers, Philip Roth, once called \'the indigenous American berserk\' but he\'s not, in turn captured and disfigured by it. He imagines that there might yet be another fork in the road, another highway rest stop, another snoring American right beside you, dreaming their own great American dream.\
PositiveThe Washington Post\"What Juliet \'did\' during the war — and beyond — makes for suspenseful reading, and Atkinson clearly has fun resuscitating classic white-knuckle moments from old espionage novels and films ... Espionage is a grim business, but Atkinson’s wry style imbues the world of Transcription with moments of brisk cheer, as if Ian Fleming had been crossed pollinated with Barbara Pym.\
RaveNPRWhat I love most about Wilson\'s writing is that he\'ll start off with these goofy, almost sitcom-type contrived premises and from there create stories that knock you out with the force of their emotional truth. That distinctive sweet-tart flavor of Wilson\'s writing is triple-concentrated in his new short story collection ... In ingenious ways, all the stories here are about surrender, whether they\'re about a character\'s surrendering to loss or human failing ... There\'s a lot of Salinger in Wilson\'s writing — the wit, the vulnerability and the cosmic sadness ... they killed me.
R O Kwon
PositiveNPR\"Kwon vividly explores a subject that\'s rarely raised in mainstream novels about life on campus these days: that is, the allure of a belief in God — or at least the things that a belief in God provides ... Sometimes Kwon\'s style can get a bit too doggedly lyrical, but she\'s deft at moving the plot toward its explosive climax. In The Incendiaries Kwon has created a singular version of the campus novel; it turns out to be a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of her young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.\
RaveThe Washington Post\"Give Me Your Hand steadily intensifies its atmosphere of claustrophobia to the point of constriction. Indeed, this macabre story makes Edgar Allan Poe’s \'The Pit and the Pendulum,\' (the granddaddy of all \'walls-closing-in\' tales) seem as airy and expansive as the Grand Canyon ... Abbott deliciously draws out tension by hopping back and forth in time, slowly disclosing Diane’s skeleton-in-the-closet while divulging Kit’s moral failings that will inadvertently add to the body count ... Give Me Your Hand, like so many of Abbott’s disturbing tales, dramatizes the adage, \'Be careful what you wish for.\' \
MixedThe Washington Post\"For some readers, that cover illustration alone—and the fantasy it conjures up—will be worth the price of this book. As is fitting, Biden is the narrator: He’s a rattling Dr. Watson to Obama’s more inscrutable Holmes. Shaffer does his best to generate Biden-isms aplenty to lend a smidgen of authenticity to Uncle Joe’s voice ... Some aspects of this novel strain too hard for zaniness. (It’s bromance overkill, for instance, when Barack and Joe are forced to share a double bed in a fleabag motel while they hide out from the bad guys and the Secret Service.) As is often the case with screwball comedy, the slighter episodes are the funniest ... I did laugh, but if you didn’t, perhaps this romp, sweetly goofy as it is, isn’t for you. Word is that Hope Never Dies is just the first of a projected series of Obama-Biden mysteries. That may be a bit too much of this bromance even for those who think that the last administration was the stuff that dreams are made of.\
RaveNPRThis is an entertaining and elegantly written story about social class, self-delusion and the fragility of second chances ... a perfect storm of a plot in which the vertical borders between the privileged and the proletariat collapse. Christensen is a sharp observer, not only of the layered social world of the Queen Isabella but of the shifting relationships between her characters ... all the while I was reading The Last Cruise I kept thinking of Barbara Pym...who has been described as the most under-rated writer of the 20th century—Christensen is easy to misjudge, but, as she demonstrates in The Last Cruise she\'s quite capable of navigating deep waters.
RaveNPRLevy\'s style is fragmented, each anecdote as luminous, self-contained and hard as the pearls in the necklace she habitually wears around her throat. There\'s humor here and vulnerability; after all, in addition to her divorce, Levy has to weather those other common melancholy midlife markers—the death of her mother and the departure of one of her two daughters for college. But above all, The Cost of Living is a smart, slim meditation on womanhood informed by Levy\'s wide reading.
PositiveNPR\"Whatever you may think of her novel\'s subject—and I\'m still on the fence—you have to give Moshfegh props for her skill as a writer ... As engrossing as it is, there\'s also something undeniably airless and off-putting about this novel. Reading it is like having one of those weird vivid dreams; a dream that\'s so self-contained, once you shake off its drowsy spell, you may find it hard to remember what it was all about.\
PositiveNPR...a very breezy history of the family road trip, which had its heyday, at least for some Americans, from the 1950s into the \'70s ... perhaps Ratay\'s most poignant cultural observation is the one he opens and closes his book on. Ratay says that, unlike plane trips, those long car rides of yore — in which families traveled without the distraction of smartphones or DVD players — were less about the destination than the journey.
PositiveThe Washington PostPart espionage tale, part coming of age/coming out novel, Knecht’s narrative requires a lot of setup, which gives the first half of her story a cumbersome stop-and-start rhythm. Readers who have the patience to stick with it, however, will find themselves rewarded with an off-road tale of political intrigue and youthful naivete ... The pacing of Who Is Vera Kelly? is uneven, but it ends up being a pretty satisfying adventure romp. Given the current popularity of \'women-in-trouble\' psychological suspense tales, where much of the action takes place in the heroine’s anxious mind, it’s refreshing to read a novel where a capable young woman not only knows how to fix an electrical short in a transformer, but also how to maneuver around the homophobic biases of her own era.
RaveNPREven if the rest of its story were just so-so — and it\'s much more than that — the novel\'s prologue would make this book worth reading ... In his prologue and in other inspired digressions throughout this novel, Orange\'s writing reminds me of the late, great Tom Wolfe — another exuberant, socially conscious prose poet who loved to get word-drunk but never got sloppy ... There There is distinguished not only by Orange\'s crackling style, but by its unusual subject ... There There is pithy and pointed. With a literary authority rare in a debut novel, it places Native American voices front and center before readers\' eyes.
RaveThe Washington PostA classic never goes out of style ... Here’s a suspense tale so old-fashioned, I’m hard-pressed to recall an element of it that doesn’t derive straight from the \'It Was a Dark and Stormy Night\' playbook. Among other Gothic delights, there’s a crumbling old mansion, a disputed inheritance, an orphaned heroine and a grim housekeeper whose signature supper dish is gristle stew ... Somehow, Ware takes all these tarnished suspense tropes, gives them a brisk working-over with a polishing cloth and recovers the ageless beauty of the traditional ... The Death of Mrs. Westaway is superb. In addition to its brooding atmosphere and labyrinthine mistaken-identity plot, the novel also gives us a heroine of real depth in Hal.
RaveNPRThe Death Of Mrs. Westaway is a perfectly executed mystery very much in the mode of Daphne du Maurier\'s Rebecca ... I predict that lovers of first-class suspense will want to shut out the sunny delights of summer...and read until the stunning endgames here are played out.
PositiveNPR\"Florida is filled with brooding, inventive and often moving short stories—and I say this as a critic who has admired the architectural complexity of Groff\'s work in the past but also found it somewhat chilly. Here, she is more generous about opening up her character\'s emotional lives. In Groff\'s trademark zigzagging storytelling style, revelations ricochet between pages — and sometimes even within single sentences. ... Lots of things go south fast in the stories collected in Florida—like marriages, careers and the weather—but throughout, Groff\'s gifts as a writer just keep soaring higher and higher.\
PanThe Washington PostHer swarm of fans who have come of age with Pretty Little Liars — and Shepard’s many other YA novels — will not be dissuaded from reading her new book, The Elizas, a thriller aimed at an adult audience, no matter what scorn I heap upon it. But, though the effort be futile, heap I must ... Shepard’s story line is simultaneously so ornate and empty that it dissolves soon after reading. Eccentric but flat characters populate the novel’s pages, and false alarms pop up in every chapter with humdrum predictability ... I’ve tried but failed to think of a single positive thing to say about The Elizas, but no matter. Word is the novel has already been optioned for a film adaptation.
RaveNPRPerhaps best known for her grand descriptive powers as a travel writer, Morris, now 91, has also written acclaimed works of history and biography ... The short, illustrated book Morris has written about the Yamato is what she calls 'a reverie' on the varied emotions that war summons up, including 'pride and splendour,' 'sacrifice,' 'squalor' and 'carnage.' I think it's safe to say that Morris has also written a reverie on accepting the inevitability of death ... This book itself signals yet another end: Certainly, it will be one of the very last books written about World War II by an author who saw active service in that war. That sobering fact only adds to the elegiac resonance of this magnificent little book.
RaveNPR\"I didn\'t know how much I needed a laugh until I began reading Stephen McCauley\'s new novel, My Ex-Life. This is the kind of witty, sparkling, sharp novel for which the verb \'chortle\' was invented ... McCauley summons up a conclusion that makes a profound statement about time passing and the shifting mirage of life goals. Like the best of comic fiction writers [...] McCauley draws his readers into reflecting on some of the big questions — sexuality, mortality, failure — with the lure of laughter.\
Zora Neale Hurston
RaveNPR\"For skeptics who believe that all the archives have long been plundered and all the literary treasures of the past have already been published, Barracoon will be a conversion experience. It\'s a monumental work, not \'merely\' because it describes aspects of the slave trade that largely went unrecorded, but also because it vividly dramatizes two extraordinary voices in conversation ... He told Hurston: \'When de earth eats, it doan give back.\' True enough. But in writing Barracoon, Hurston found a way to ensure that the earth didn\'t swallow Cudjo Lewis\' precious words.\
RaveNPR\"Hampl wonders about what we miss when we no longer allow ourselves to simply get lost in thought. Her sharp and unconventional book — a swirl of memoir, travelogue and biography of some of history\'s champion day-dreamers — is its very own Exhibit A, making the case for the profound value of letting the mind wander ... Unlike stories, these small moments or \'vignettes,\' as Hampl says, lead us \'down the rabbit hole of thought.\' That sounds self-indulgent, but Hampl is such an incisive writer, a reader comes to trust that those rabbit holes are worth tumbling down into ... Like most of the rest of this odd and haunting book, it\'s impossible to do justice to the cumulative power of Hampl\'s dream-weaver writing style by just quoting a few lines. You have to go on the whole voyage with her, take the detours, be willing to let yourself get becalmed in thought. The payoff — because, of course, we\'re all still looking for a payoff — is that by wasting some of your time with Hampl, you\'ll understand more of what makes life worth living.\
Kirk Wallace Johnson
PositiveThe Feather ThiefThis is one weird-but-true story ... By the end of Kirk Wallace Johnson\'s absorbing book, The Feather Thief, we readers learn more than we probably ever wanted to know about feathers. But, we may also come to understand why it\'s important, ecologically speaking, to care about what happened to the feathers of what Johnson calls, \'the missing birds of Tring\' ... Though it\'s non-fiction, The Feather Thief contains many of the elements of a classic thriller ... I won\'t tell you how Johnson\'s gallant search for the missing birds ends. But it\'s depressing to learn, as we do early on in this book, that Edwin Rist, the feather thief, never served any time in prison. In the eyes of the law, perhaps all those old feathers didn\'t amount to much.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"...an entertaining and erudite cultural history of selected female thinkers ... Indeed, Ms. Dean herself performs the work of a public intellectual by doing justice to the substance of her subjects’ work, while also conveying—through her own wit and lively opinions—why their work matters ... Along with incisive readings of their most emblematic work, Ms. Dean skillfully encapsulates each of these women’s life stories, focusing on their mostly roundabout and bumpy paths to a public career ... There’s so much more to savor, ruminate on, learn from and, certainly, argue with in this splendid book.\
RaveThe Washington PostFilled with turbulence and sudden plunges in altitude, The Flight Attendant is a very rare thriller whose penultimate chapter made me think to myself, 'I didn’t see that coming.' The novel — Bohjalian’s 20th — is also enhanced by his deftness in sketching out vivid characters and locales and by his obvious research into the realities of airline work ... The Flight Attendant is the ultimate airplane book, and not just because of its name: entertaining and filled with inside info on the less glamorous aspect of flight crew’s lives, it may even make you more politely attentive the next time you’re asked to listen to that in-flight lecture on emergency water landings.
RaveNPR\"No other biography of Christie that I\'ve read so powerfully summons up the atmosphere of Christie\'s own writing: that singular blend of menace and the mundane.\
RaveNPR\"McNamara and her collaborators have written an un-put-down-able account of the crimes, the faded suburban California world where they took place and the dogged police detectives who remain haunted by the case. Just as powerful is McNamara\'s investigation into her own obsession with The Golden State Killer. Her voice throughout is unfailingly smart and wry.\
RaveNPRYoung is a frank, funny and mercilessly self-lacerating narrator. His writing is entertaining and experimental — two adjectives not often found together. To convey the chaos of his three deployments in Iraq, Young writes in choppy chapters filled with lists, letters, cartoons, plays and, yes, lots of stories … Eat the Apple is a brilliant and barbed memoir of the Iraq War. Unlike his ‘past-me’ self in that hotel room struggling to communicate with his family, Young has now found the language to convey the messy totality of his experiences. And that's just about all the redemption you'll find in Young's war story.
PositiveNPRThink the tough tone of something like Rachel Kushner's New York/Italian art and politics novel, The Flamethrowers, or Olivia Laing's atmospheric nonfiction book about New York, The Lonely City ... By foreclosing the question of Lu's decision, Lyon avoids the contrived quality built into her plot. Instead, the focus here shifts more to Lu's ambition, her tortured rationalizations and the harsh limits of the world she's desperate to climb out of. Above all, as its title suggests, Self-Portrait With Boy is a smart novel about the narcissistic ambition that's needed to succeed, especially in the art world, especially in New York.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalFeel Free, like Ms. Smith’s 2009 debut essay collection, Changing My Mind, is polyamorous in its objects of fascination...may be taken as an exhortation to wander, follow our own curiosities, pluck essays out of different sections and skim or skip others ... Most but not all have been published previously, in outlets like the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, the Guardian and Harper’s. And most, but not all, are worth reading ... It’s a rare piece of critical writing that can contemplate a mystery and deepen our understanding of it without \'solving\' it. This is criticism with the open-ended power, yet also the ambiguity, of the creative genius from whom it is derived. There is too much in this collection that doesn’t deserve renewed scrutiny; but when Ms. Smith is writing at her best, she is free, unfettered and alive.
RaveNPR\"Like those direct addresses to his future readers that Whitman scatters throughout Leaves of Grass, Johnson, in these stories, anticipates talking across the abyss that separates the quick from the dead … Most of these stories are terrific, and two — the first and the last — are out-of-this-world … The Largesse of The Sea Maiden contains the kind of work every writer would like to go out on: fresh, profound and singular. It affirms literature\'s promise to believers, the gift of eternal voice.\
Leila Slimani, Trans. by Sam Taylor
RaveThe Washington Post...psychological suspense novel about a \'perfect\' nanny who snaps ...aspires toward the taut elegance of that classic nanny nightmare tale, Henry James’s \'The Turn of the Screw,\'... The voice of Slimani’s omniscient third-person narrator is consistently chill and precise; her plot spares neither her characters’ fates nor her readers’ sensibilities ... Poetic phrases like that one abound throughout the novel and elevate it well above its formulaic premise, one that has inspired many a Lifetime television movie ... Surely it’s the enduring masochistic power of that nightmare — rendered particularly vivid here through Slimani’s great stylistic gifts — that have made this slim novel an international bestseller.
Leila Slimani, Trans. by Sam Taylor
PositiveNPROne can see why the judges were wowed. The voice of Slimani\'s omniscient narrator is chill and precise; her plot spares neither her characters\' fates nor her readers\' sensibilities. The opening paragraph of The Perfect Nanny warns us this is a story in which the worst can happen and, in fact, just has... Slimani\'s aloof narrator slowly reveals that Louise obsessively yearns for a second chance to perfect her own flawed mothering skills. Of course, it\'s an impossible aim and the pressure mounts ... Poetic phrases like that one abound throughout Slimani\'s novel and elevate it well above its formulaic premise, one that has inspired many a beware-the-au-pair Lifetime movie ... Surely it\'s the enduring masochistic power of that nightmare of maternal inadequacy — rendered particularly vivid here through Slimani\'s stylistic gifts — that have made this slim novel an international bestseller. Talk about a guilty pleasure.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe premise of the eighth Chief Inspector Gamache mystery sounds like ye olde Gothic novel boilerplate, so it’s a testament to Louise Penny’s subtlety as a writer that The Beautiful Mystery is so fresh and fully realized. In their latest case, Gamache and Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his sidekick in the Surete du Quebec, venture into a world largely untouched by modernity but, regrettably, not untouched by sin … Penny’s setting is so haunting that she can perhaps be excused for going on a tad too long throughout the first third of this book in describing the atmosphere of the abbey … By its conclusion, The Beautiful Mystery transforms itself, unexpectedly, into an emotionally harrowing tale.
PositiveNPRGiven that Mad Men was routinely referred to as ‘a televised epic novel,’ you'd expect that Weiner's foray into literary fiction would be pretty good — and it is … As he did throughout Mad Men, Weiner also deftly exposes the weirdness of mundane life changes: the transformation of a chatty toddler into a shut-down adolescent; the sudden shifting of alliances among closed groups, whether they be ad agencies or nuclear families … Heather, The Totality doesn't break any new ground stylistically; instead, it chillingly reminds us of how unstable the ground is that we take for granted beneath our feet.
RaveNPRI rave on: this time about Russell's new short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Russell is so grand a writer — so otherworldly, yet emotionally devastating; so daffy and daring — that she doesn't need an imprimatur to stake her claim to literary genius. The title story kicks off this collection by doing the near impossible: making me care about vampires, a breed more overexposed these days than Labrador retrievers … I love the sweep of these stories, their goofy-to-majestic tone, the authority of Russell's narrators.
Kate Winkler Dawson
MixedNPR...an intriguing book about this silent disaster ... Those parallel plotlines never quite intersect. Death in the Air would've been an even more compelling book without Dawson's somewhat forced attempt to make connections between these two London 'stranglers' ... Another strike against the Christie story is that his grisly career has been exhaustively documented in books and films ... Dawson cuts a precise narrative path through the smog by marshaling together an array of government and newspaper reports and interviews with people who lived through those terrible five days when trains, buses and ships on the Thames came to a standstill and crime was rampant. Most affecting are the first-person recollections of a woman who was 13 years old that winter.
PositiveNPRThe Burgess Boys is not only a novel — it's a big, floppy, shambling jumble sale of a novel. I mostly loved it because it feels like life: Color it chaotic … This is an ambitious novel that wants to train its gaze on the flotsam and jetsam of thought, as well as on big-issue topics like the politics of immigration and the possibility of second chances. The Burgess Boys can be overly sentimental sometimes and too contrived, but Strout can really nail things in her precise but unprissy language … The most resonant parts of The Burgess Boys, however, are the long, sprawling sections that delve into the family dynamics, especially the damaged, delusional yet still essential relationship between Jim and Bob. It's because this novel is messy and wrinkled and digressive that it ultimately rings true.
Ed. by Gary Phillips
PositiveNPR...a collection of 15 stories so sly, fresh and Bizarro World witty, they reaffirm the resiliency of the artistic imagination ... The overarching aim of all this outlandishness is to entertain, as well as to tuck some social criticism into the formulaic folds of these tales of spooks, spies, private eyes, clones, bots and alien invaders ... In recent years, writers of color have taken up sci-fi and fantasy in particular as richly poetic vehicles to explore racism and imagine alternative worlds. The pulp stories in The Obama Inheritance — sci-fi, fantasy and noir — are fun to read, and be forewarned: Many of them also pack a punch.
MixedThe Washington PostJon McGregor has revolutionized that most hallowed of mystery plots: the one where some foul deed takes place in a tranquil English village that, by the close of the case, doesn’t feel so tranquil anymore. Whether you find McGregor’s innovations brilliant or boring will depend on your tolerance for delayed gratification ... as McGregor’s achievement is, I frequently found myself looking for excuses to stop admiring it and read something else. Staying inside his finely wrought construction for long stretches of time made me feel wistful for Agatha Christie. I wanted clues to track, criminals to nab and, most of all, a timely solution that would lay evil to rest ... The inventive — and enervating — quality of McGregor’s novel derives not only from its refusal to bend to conventional thriller expectations, but also from its form. Paragraphs frequently run on for pages — monoliths of prose in which the minutiae of life in the village is recounted ... Reservoir 13 generates suspense, not out of chase scenes or sly dialogue, but out of the extended narrative experience of waiting — waiting for something, anything, to break in Rebecca’s case. Maybe this is not so much a thriller, but a 'post-thriller'— a novel that meditates on tragedy and its inevitable fading away in memory. No matter how it’s classified, Reservoir 13 requires an extraordinary amount of patience from its readers.
RaveNPRIt's that shadowy state of knowing, but mostly living as though we don't know about all these looming terrors that Kazuo Ishiguro captures in his latest novel, The Buried Giant ... In The Buried Giant, an exhausted group of medieval travelers cross a blasted landscape straight out of the plays and novels of Samuel Beckett ...Ishiguro quests after far more profound mysteries here than the location of that dragon ... This is yet another radiant and deeply moving Ishiguro riff on loss and the tragic nature of life. It'd pay at the tribute of saying that as a novel, it's unforgettable.
RaveNPRThis is a big, traditional historical novel — in the manner of a Ken Follett or Herman Wouk ... Like every good historical novel I've ever read, the storyline of this one is as hokey as hell and completely transporting. Manhattan Beach is ambitiously and deliciously plot-driven, and it boldly helps itself to a wide library of earlier New York stories ... Manhattan Beach isn't flawless. Especially at the beginning, Egan strains to convince readers of the authenticity of her story and intrusively references too many brand names and period details: Ivory Flakes for washing, automats, the 40-cent boxed chicken lunches that Anna buys at the Navy Yard. But to focus on scattered imperfections would be like focusing on the litter of New York City streets while ignoring the wonder of the city itself. Manhattan Beach is a big gorgeous tribute to New York City and its seaport. In drawing from the classic catalog of New York stories, Manhattan Beach also takes its place among them.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMs. McDermott’s range may be confined, but she sees a world within those dusty parish halls, tenements, bars and funeral homes whose interest is inexhaustible. With the precision of a master—never over-reaching for significance or relaxing into sentimentality—Ms. McDermott lays bare the reasons why those 'small lives' matter ... A great McDermott novel—and The Ninth Hour is a great one—makes you realize the wisdom of her decision to stay put in the old neighborhood ... Female self-sacrifice—its allure and moral complications—is Ms. McDermott’s overarching subject here. As Mary Gordon did almost 40 years ago in her now classic debut, Final Payments, Ms. McDermott brilliantly dramatizes the pull, especially on loving Catholic daughters, of martyrdom ... Ms. McDermott has once again managed a marvelous literary feat: She’s written another one of those 'parochial' novels of hers whose reach is universal.
PositiveNPREver since Marley & Me was published in 2005, the litter of literary tributes to beloved bow-wows has become so vast and formulaic that a universal spaying of the genre is called for. But Afterglow is a mutt elegy in a million ... Through all this weirdness, Myles gets at something no other dog book I've read has gotten at quite this distinctly: The sense of wordless connection and spiritual expansion you feel when you love and are loved by a creature who's not human ... Myles takes chances with form: Sometimes they flop into incomprehensibility; but, overall, Afterglow works. It's raw and affecting, and in its wild snuffling way, utterly original.
MixedThe Washington PostLarsson had grand ambitions for his Millennium series, projecting a total of 10 novels. In Lagercrantz's hands, the series is realizing grand ambitions of another sort. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for An Eye intensifies the mythic elements of Larsson's vision. All the talk of stolen babies and a 'search for origins' in this novel - along with the malevolent influence of Salander's evil twin, Camilla - moves the series further into the realms of Star Wars and Harry Potter. A little of this legendary stuff goes a long way in Salander's hard world ... The enduring draw at the center of the Millennium series is that image of a strange and solitary young woman trying to even the score with all manner of bullies by dint of her brains and, when called for, some martial arts moves. A bit far-fetched, certainly, but it's rooted in the just barely possible. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is entertaining, but 'the girl' at the center of this wild tale is beginning to look like somebody we readers only used to know.
PositiveNPRThe two separate plotlines about these two questers — Nicole and Epstein —ultimately intersect, but that's the only predictable aspect of this scramble of a novel. There are digressions here into Franz Kafka, René Descartes, Sigmund Freud, fairy tales and film. Sections of the novel are walled off from each another, as disconnected as that row-after-row of rooms in the Tel Aviv Hilton. Readers should just go along for the choppy ride, because the pleasure of Krauss' writing isn't located in the story. Instead, it's the wayward precision of her language that draws us into the desert, 'the forest dark' and other contemplative places where illumination occurs.
RaveThe Washington PostIn A God in Ruins, she’s written not only a companion to her earlier book, but a novel that takes its place in the line of powerful works about young men and war … A God in Ruins contains many...harrowing scenes, rendered in economical detail and occasional black humor. Atkinson’s skills as a suspense writer serve her well here: It’s not till the final pages of the novel that we learn who makes it through the war and who doesn’t. As powerfully as it conveys life-and-death struggles in the air, A God in Ruins also compels readers to recognize the courage of those in the war’s aftermath, who were left to quietly pick up the pieces.
RaveNPRThe Burning Girl reads like an updated Gothic tale — in part, because it has so many of the traditional trappings of the genre (a decaying mansion, an evil guardian, ghosts) and, in part, because it's a novel about the friendship between two adolescent girls — and what life journey could be more Gothic than the passage through adolescence? ... Because Messud is such a precise and restrained writer, the girls' haunted summer walking tour remains credible, as well as evocative ... this is a novel that's made distinct by its mood more than its story. The climax here melds together the mundane griefs and cruelties of adolescence with the eerie atmosphere of those dark woods and that asylum. Like most of Messud's other novels, The Burning Girl deeply excavates the subject of female loneliness. Growing up female, as Julia tells us, may indeed have something to do with learning to be afraid, but in writing on the difficult topics of abandonment, betrayal and isolation, Messud herself is fearless.
PanNPRMcEwan deploys his great gifts of storytelling to draw readers into an intricate plot about Serena's career during the 1970s, working as a low-level operative for MI5, the British internal intelligence service. Then, by novel's end, McEwan ridicules us readers for ever believing in Serena and the fictional world he's blown breath into … There's a degree of nastiness here — particularly in that genderized disdain for female readers as well as in McEwan's cool dismissal of the products of his own imagination. Postmodernist writing can have humor and heart, but, in Sweet Tooth, McEwan's postmodernist narrative ‘tricks’ simply serve as weapons of mass destruction. The novel is exposed as little more than a mental game, and Serena, whom we've grown attached to, is brutally silenced.
Karen Joy Fowler
PositiveNPRFowler's novel is superb, but I've already warned a couple of sensitive animal lovers I know away from it. You should read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves only if you're willing to be upset and probably permanently haunted … Fern disappears when Rosemary is 5, and we don't learn what happened to her until the end of the novel. What Rosemary does chronicle, however, is how her family was shattered by Fern's leave-taking. Lowell grows up to be a militant animal-rights activist wanted by the FBI; her mother descends into depression; her father drinks. Rosemary thinks she endured the worst fate of all … Fowler's smart and exquisitely sad novel provokes us to think about a lot of aspects of our relationship to animals that most of us would rather ignore.
Lawrence P. Jackson
RaveNPRAs interesting as Jackson's account of Himes' later life is — including his eventual self exile in Paris, a deep friendship with Malcolm X and the turn to writing the detective novels that would bring him fame and financial success — it's the long section of this biography about Himes' prison years that's most absorbing ... Himes, like the literature he created, was difficult and sometimes cruel; but Jackson insists he's worth the trouble. At the end of this biography, Jackson memorably characterizes Himes' great gifts as a writer, describing 'his spirited realism from the bottom that defied fear and always cut hard enough to draw blood.' That sentence, and many more like it, make me intrigued enough to want to read Himes' work beyond the detective novels I already know.
MixedNPRIn April, a debut mystery called The Cuckoo's Calling was published ... The story takes place in a circumscribed setting, it's full of oddball suspects, and the killer is affably lurking in plain sight throughout much of the action. Rowling's private eye hero is named Cormoran Strike: He's an ex-military policeman who lost a leg in Afghanistan ... Rowling tries to bring a more contemporary edge to this novel by featuring a beautiful biracial victim and delving into the demimonde of high fashion and hip-hop royalty, but the world here still feels curiously dated ... The most intriguing unsolved mystery in The Cuckoo's Calling is why, in this post-Lisbeth Salander age, Rowling would choose to outfit her female lead with such meek and anachronistic feminine behavior.
RaveNPRIn the resulting portraits, Shapiro, like a consummate maître d', sets down plate after plate of the food these women cooked, ate or thought about and an amazing thing happens: Slowly the more familiar accounts of each of their lives recede and other, messier narratives emerge ... Several times throughout What She Ate, Shapiro repeats what surely is one of her life's mantras: 'Food talks — but somebody has to hear it.' How lucky for us readers that Shapiro has been listening so perceptively for decades to the language of food.
MixedThe Washington PostThis story stays scrupulously within the lines: to the degree it satisfies, it does so because — like a Lifetime movie — its premise, setting and characters are so comfortably broken-in. There’s even a haunted house, a dark and stormy night, a baby in peril and climactic trials by flood and fire ... Ware’s style here is as routine as her plot. For instance, when faced with an awful revelation, Isa feels 'a shiver of cold run from my neck, all the way down my back, prickling at my skin.' In other scenes, like many a thriller heroine before her, words scream inside Isa’s head ... The Lying Game rallies in its second half, making a few unforeseen detours off its well-worn narrative road before inevitably returning to that perilous half-submerged footbridge to wrap things up. As long as readers are ready to surrender to the pleasures of the predictable, Ware’s latest thriller is enjoyable enough.
RaveNPR...most of Zhang's situations — and language — are far more violent and sexually explicit than the classic immigrant tale. These girls aren't sheltered. How could they be, when they're sleeping on mattresses on a floor shared by their parents and three other families? They're tough and knowing — and they sound like it — although you can also hear vestiges of a childish vulnerability in their voices ... Most of Zhang's others stories in Sour Heart are simultaneously tough to read and, yet, worth it. There's something very compelling about young girls in fiction, and in life, who speak up — and if their voices are rude, funny, even offensive sometimes, all the better. Given this fierce debut, I'll be giving the other voices Dunham finds a careful listen.
RaveNPR'Geezer Lit' has become a booming publishing niche as we readers wrinkle, but The Last Laugh is so much more than a print version of The Golden Girls. Freed's one-liners on subjects like sleep apnea machines are hilarious; so are the excerpts from Ruth's columns, which she writes for a senior publication called So Long Magazine. But Freed also gives more somber subjects their due, such as loneliness and the fear of looming dependence. The Last Laugh is a Campari spritzer of a novel: bubbly and colorful, but with a underlying note of bitterness to add satisfying complexity.
RaveThe Washington Post...if, like me, you are a technophobe who also loves good suspense fiction, you should stick with this story...the techie jargon here is more decorative than essential. It’s an embellishment that lends credibility to one of the most ingenious thrillers I’ve read in a long time ... Brookmyre is a pro at slowly injecting ever more anxiety into scenes where the suspense sweat-o-meter is already hovering in the red zone ... The one thing critical to a good suspense novel is, well, suspense. But an extraordinary suspense novel has that extra something — a haunting setting, wit or, in the case of The Last Hack, the presence of an idiosyncratic, morally complex heroine. The immortal Lisbeth Salander, that other 'girl on the Internet,' is brilliant, but deliberately difficult to cozy up to; Sam Morpeth is much more human and vulnerable. By the end of this novel, she’s not only hacked her way into high security sites like Synergis but into but a reader’s affections, too.
PanNPRA serious problem with The Lacuna is telegraphed in its striking title. ‘Lacuna’ refers to a gap or something that's absent. The motif of the crucial missing piece runs throughout the novel, but the thing unintentionally missing here is an engaging main character … Kingsolver's aim here clearly is to give us the bystander view of history, the perspective of the ordinary Joe rather than the key players. As Kahlo declares to the young Harrison, ‘Greatness is very boring.’ The politically incorrect truth is, however, that ordinariness oftentimes is even more boring. Harrison is so pallid, so retiring that it's very hard to stay for extended periods in his company, and seeing history unfold from his wan point of view isn't all that illuminating.
RaveNPR...[a] superb debut novel ... Like all great humorists, Klam is a sharp observer and he skewers his targets here with specificity and brio. Who Is Rich? is also cynically smart about the class politics crackling in the air at these kinds of gatherings ... There's a scene midway through this novel where Rich — guilty about an affair and itching to break free of his paycheck-to-paycheck existence — impulsively blows his entire honorarium on an expensive bracelet for his wife at home. I swear to you the economic terror Klam conjures up in that scene is every bit as vivid as the physical terror of the opening scene of that quintessential New England beach movie, Jaws.
RaveNPR...a novel about post-Sept. 11 New York City as viewed through the scrim of F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. Gatsby is the great American novel about dreaming, overreaching and loss, but many people forget that it's also a great novel about New York City, which stands in for the idea of America in the novel ... We live in a permanent state of aftermath. Which is where Joseph O'Neill's marvelous novel Netherland begins ... O'Neill is a wide-ranging stylist capable of whipping out unexpected but precisely right words like 'peregrinating.' He's also adroit at muted comedy...The Great Gatsby itself has become something of a 'green light' for novelists — a literary ideal to be reached for but never quite grasped. O'Neill in Netherland runs faster, stretches out his arms farther and approaches the glow of greatness.
PanThe Washington PostThe best moments in The Child occur when readers tag along with Kate as she works on identifying the long dead infant by talking her way into pubs and flats and combing through old archives. All the while, she’s also teaching her wide-eyed hipster intern the classic techniques of golden age investigative journalism. Enjoyable as those scenes are, however, the rest of The Child should have been sent to the publishing equivalent of Kate’s rewrite desk. The Child is a middling and much-too-long suspense story that would have benefited from a ruthless red-pencil ... Figuring out how all these women are connected — to each other and to the unidentified infant — is the hypothetical draw of this kind of fragmented, multi-perspective type of storytelling. I say 'hypothetical draw,' because The Child is more tedious than tense.
MixedNPRWhen Modern Gods stays within the bounds of this closely observed family story — about Alison's shot at happiness thwarted by the power of the past; about Liz's reckoning with the price she's paid for leaving Ballyglass — it's an engrossing spin on Laird's signature theme of reinvention. But Modern Gods doesn't stay within those bounds. It gets antsy or maybe even anxious about sticking to the traditionally female terrain of domestic drama, and so in its second half the novel goes seriously haywire. Think Heart of Darkness without its colonialist weight or A Handful of Dust without the laughs ... The novel starts out with a lot of promise, but like the beliefs and conventions it punctures, Modern Gods itself ends up being a lot of wild blather.
RaveNPRGolden Hill is so gorgeously crafted, so intelligent and entertaining, it makes a case for the enduring vitality of the more straightforward historical novel ... Spufford's sprawling recreation here is pitch perfect, down to single sentences that can stretch exuberantly to a page, as well as a comic narrator who directly apologizes to readers when events get too bawdy or bloody.
PositiveNPROscar, I'm happy to say, is nowhere in this terrific collection, which instead focuses almost exclusively on Yunior, Oscar's wired friend who narrated The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The nine fully charged-up and chronologically mixed-up stories here mostly explore Yunior's staggeringly scummy treatment of his girlfriends — his "hood hotties" — but they also riff on other kinds of love: maternal and brotherly; the yearning immigrants feel for their home country; the distinct emotional purgatories of the cheater and the cheated upon ...because as any Junot Diaz reader knows, his characters can't rattle on for long without resorting to some expletive. Happily, Yunior's voice is as versatile as his other main instrument...
RaveNPR...a very smart work of literary fiction that exposes how very thin the layer of good luck is that keeps most of us from falling into the abyss ... Meloy is such a deft writer that she keeps the adventure plot whizzing along even as she deepens our sense of the characters and the unfamiliar culture they have to navigate. You may (mistakenly) think that you don't want to enter the nightmare world of this novel, but Meloy makes you realize what a luxury it is to have that choice.
PositiveNPRThere's a quality of stillness to The Lowland that, especially in its opening sections, almost verges on the stagnant — or would, were it not for Lahiri's always surprising language and plotting … The Lowland is buoyantly ambitious in both its story and its form … The Lowland is a novel about the rashness of youth, as well as the hesitation and regret that can make a long life not worth living. Toward the end of The Lowland, a metaphorical monsoon finally hits, rousing Subhash out of his lifelong timidity, that mud hiding place Lahiri describes in her lyrical opening.
MixedNPRLike a stalk of late-summer corn that's blighted at its very tip, NW's narrative is four-fifths ripe, golden deliciousness, one-fifth barren cob. As she did in her terrific debut White Teeth, Smith gives us an ambitious city novel in NW … As anyone who's read Smith's fiction knows, her genius dwells in her language. She excels at Gertrude Stein-inspired lines that whip together sound and nonsense and fleeting zigzags of insight … It's Natalie's bizarre remedy for her own alienation, however, that causes this novel to crumble in its final 70 pages or so, endangering its credibility and the wealth of its accumulated, smart observations about contemporary London.
RaveNPREven though Franzen gets more praise for doing what many fine female writers do ‘backwards and in heels,’ in the case of the blandly titled Freedom, it's well deserved … It's the novel — by a man — along with novels by women like Allegra Goodman, Lionel Shriver, and the incandescent Sue Miller, that I'd elect to put in a time capsule to give a sense of the texture of middle-class American life to future readers. And, I sincerely hope that last phrase is not an oxymoron … There's not one throwaway scene in Freedom and, yet, for all that effort, nothing feels overwritten or false.
PositiveThe Washington PostIt’s hard to top that macabre pub-crawl around Glasgow for drama, but Mina has plenty of other provocative historical material here to flesh out — including the transcripts of Manuel’s murder trial that took place the following year ... the narrator of The Long Drop sees far beyond the daily grime and grisly events of the late 1950s and, yet, mostly keeps mum, leaving readers to stumble with detectives through the fug of half-truths and lies that enshroud the story of Peter Manuel and his patsy or prey or possible partner in crime, William Watt. The Long Drop takes readers on a suspenseful tour into the past, through psyches and situations far grimmer than even those sooty Glasgow streets.
RaveNPRA slim, deeply affecting and brutal story ... There's nothing fake or forced in Magariel's writing; he even pulls off the trick of relying on a 12-year-old narrator without pandering to sentimentality or wise-child syndrome. Those are some of the pitfalls Magariel avoids; what he achieves is a novel that makes readers feel what it would be like to live on high alert all the time; to be at the mercy of a father's addictions, crackpot whims and surges of violence. He also makes us feel what it would be like to still love such a father.
PositiveNPRLerner's offbeat little novel manages to convey what everyday life feels like before we impose the structure of plot on our experience … Almost everything that happens here happens inside the main character's head, which runs day and night like one of those loop-the-loop computer screen savers, constantly generating digressions, fibs, self-criticisms and doubts … Adam's thoughts don't so much resolve themselves into conclusions; they simply dissolve into other thoughts: thoughts about the authenticity of our connection to art and to other people; thoughts about the wobbly nature of reality … The fact that I liked this novel as much as I did is entirely due to the fluidity of Lerner's words and to the wit of his musings.
RaveNPRRakesh Satyal's new novel checks off a lot of boxes, but its charm lies in the fact that it wears all of it various identities so lightly. This is an immigration story, a coming-out story and something of an old-school feminist story about a timid woman learning to roar. Yet, there's nothing preachy or predictable about Satyal's novel ... Their shared situation may sound glum, but because No One Can Pronounce My Name is essentially — and delightfully — a comic novel, the intertwined plots here are buoyant rather than blue ... No One Can Pronounce My Name explores the politics of sexual identity, as well as the immigrant and first-generation American experience, but, unfashionable as it may sound, the novel's greater achievement lies in the compassionate, comic way it explores the universal human experience of loneliness.
RaveNPRI feel like I've been waiting for a novel like this to appear not only since I read The Secret History, but also since I first read David Copperfield … As ingenious as Tartt's plot is, this novel would be but a massive scaffolding feat, were it not for her uncanny way with words … [Theo’s] loneliness is the realistic emotional constant in this crowded, exuberantly plotted triumph of a novel. And if that ain't ‘Dickensian,’ I don't know what is.
PanThe Washington Post...something’s amiss in this second novel: It’s stagnant rather than suspenseful. The Girl On The Train may have rumbled back and forth on the same train tracks twice a day, but at least it moved; as a thriller, Into The Water is stuck in the mud ... Into The Water is a dull disappointment of a thriller; one good flush would put everybody — characters and readers alike — out of their misery.
RaveNPRHer other memoirs have explored the terror of coping with her then-infant son's life-threatening illness and her parents' deaths. But Hourglass is different: It's less an account of catastrophe than it is a clear-eyed inspection of the slow cracks certain to develop in a long marriage ... In addition to its many other virtues, Hourglass underscores the tightrope tension of trying to support a middle-class lifestyle on writing.
Leonardo Padura, Trans. by Anna Kushner
RaveNPRFor over 500 tightly packed pages here, Padura manages to sustain his signature tone of wry, elegant cool as he juggles the demands of a story that oscillates between Cuba in the 1930s and the present ... Heretics spans and defies literary categories. All of which would only be of ho-hum technical interest if Heretics weren't also an arresting novel about fanaticism, anti-Semitism and the long fall-out of a decades-old moment of political cowardice ... Cloaked within familiar narrative conventions, Padura's ingenious novel is something of a heretic itself: by turns playful, dark, and moving, it traces the great psychic costs — and rewards — that come from nestling so deeply into dogma that nothing is permitted to trigger doubt.
PositiveNPRAs a novel, Waking Lions itself is the product of a collision of cultures and genres. Translated from the Hebrew, it's a psychological suspense tale mashed with a social novel about the refugee crisis. Overall, it's vividly imagined, clever, and morally ambiguous, although, occasionally, Gundar-Goshen's plot seems bit contrived. (Eitan's wife, for instance, happens to be the Israeli police detective investigating the hit-and-run accident.) Those lapses, however, mean little in comparison to how deftly Gundar-Goshen complicates her characters here ... a smart and disturbing exploration of the high price of walking away, whether it be from a car accident or from one's own politically unstable homeland.
RaveNPRThe tense fun of reading this vivid, fretful story lies in watching the main characters grab hold of what they think will be rescue ropes, but instead turn out to be slip knots ... Ghachar Ghochar is filled with wry poetic lines like that one where Shanbhag — and his translator, Srinath Perur — have rendered emotions and even random thoughts in language that's as pungent as those spices the family is marketing. Within the tight confines of a hundred pages or so, Shanbhag presents as densely layered a social vision of Bangalore as Edith Wharton did of New York in The House of Mirth ... Ghachar Ghochar is the first of Shanbhag's fiction to be published in English, but I expect it won't be the last. He's one of those special writers who can bring a fully realized world to life in a few pages and also manages to work in smart social commentary about fears that don't require much translation.
RaveNPRWhat really makes The Dime special is not just the fact that it features a lesbian detective. Rather, it\'s the fact that it shoves its lesbian detective into one of the most breathless, inventive and —be forewarned—violent suspense plots I\'ve read in a long time. Halfway through, The Dime accelerates into warp speed, and Betty has to draw on all her Brooklyn, Polish, tough-girl moxie to fight her way out of an imprisonment that would have made Harry Houdini hang his head in defeat.
RaveNPRThough it's early to say, I feel pretty safe in predicting that this is going to be one of the year's most acclaimed novels. Lincoln in the Bardo is searing, inventive and bizarre ... If this overview makes Lincoln in the Bardo seem too static, too reminiscent of that sluggish classic Spoon River Anthology, be assured that the wild plot swerves of Saunders' short stories have been transplanted and multiplied in his debut novel ... Like the president who graces its pages, it's monumental.
RaveNPRFortunately for us readers, the experimental ideal community that Kevin Wilson brings to life in his second novel, Perfect Little World, has the delicious makings of a mess from its very inception ... Wilson richly imagines the mundane details of life in the futuristic compound, as well as the bumpy personalities of the other parents, all of whom, except Izzy, are coupled ... Wilson is such an inventive and witty writer, that it was only after I'd finished Perfect Little World and was no longer caught up in the story, that I realized how many ideas he raises here, how many kinds of family arrangements he scrutinizes, among them biological, chosen, nuclear, communal, broken and bandaged. The utopian Infinite Family Project may be flawed from the get-go, but Wilson's 'perfect little world' of a novel pretty much lives up to its title.
PositiveThe Washington PostEven though Flint is British, she nails with authority the voices, commonplace wisdom and dusty claustrophobia of the borough. Just as important, Flint captures the mundane yet mythic horror of the case that has memorialized it in the annals of New York City crime ... Flint is scrupulous about centering this moody thriller in the facts, yet giving them a deeper psychological spin. In a way that feels measured rather than salacious, Flint also manages to keep aloft the crucial question of 'Who murdered the children?' until the very last pages. As a novel inspired by tragic real-life events, Little Deaths is atmospheric and plausible.
PositiveNPR...[a] nervy, funny and thought-provoking new book ... A Really Good Day tells a really good story, one that will make readers think about how drugs get classified and how chemistry alters what we think of as essential personality traits. It's a story that only a woman who's lived most of her life being 'a handful' would be gutsy enough to tell.
RaveThe Washington PostThere’s an element of Nancy Drew here, but Penny, as ever, has something more ambitious in store ... The series is deep and grand and altogether extraordinary. Although individual novels have featured plots about mass murderers and serial killers, they’re always infused with wit and compassion; they’re as much spiritual investigations into the nature of evil and divine mercy as they are 'entertainments' ... the main narrative branches into more complicated patterns until all questions are resolved in a spectacular climax that cross cuts between story lines ... In addition to all her other many gifts, Penny is a beautiful writer. A Great Reckoning is one of her best, but I think that pretty much every time I finish a Gamache mystery...or metaphysical exploration, or whatever the heck these miraculous books are.
RaveNPR...these stories, dozens of them chopped and scrambled, are bawdy and moving, violent and very funny ... Granted, some subplots seem self-indulgently baroque...But Chabon's narrative energies never flag ... a multitude of subplots command attention because they're so highly textured and because Chabon's language is so voluminous and vivid ... this is why you read Michael Chabon - for the self-deprecation and insight and brio all packed tight into sentences, fantastic stories and wild novels that you may think are a world away from where you live but always turn out to hit home.
Blanche Wiesen Cook
PositiveNPROne of the most extraordinary aspects of the third volume of Blanche Wiesen Cook's monumental biography of Eleanor Roosevelt is the way it ends. I don't think I've ever read another biography where the death of the subject is noted in an aside of less than 10 words, on the second to last page of the book ... packed with many revealing small incidents, as well as detailed accounts of her tireless work on behalf of progressive causes ... I've read all three volumes of Cook's biography and, taken together, they present an exhausting and exhilarating story, as well as undeniably melancholy one.
RaveThe Washington PostThis latest Bosch outing is its own accomplishment: brooding and intricate, suspenseful and sad. In short, it’s another terrific Michael Connelly mystery ... Because Connelly is such a hardboiled master, he casually sidesteps the usual narrative convention and does not intertwine these two plots. Instead, readers experience the stressful chaos of Harry’s overloaded and divided life.
PositiveThe Washington PostStewart offsets the series’ sentimentality with her dogged attention to the specific — and often sordid — details of Constance’s work life ... Stewart starkly dramatizes what the loss of Constance’s paycheck would do. As the steady wage earner among her sisters, Constance keeps food on the table ... Throughout the novel, Constance confronts nightmare images of female dependency ... takes readers on a lively chase through a lost world. It’s a colorful and inventive adventure tale that also contains a serious message at its core about the importance of meaningful work to women’s identities and, in some cases, survival.
RaveNPRI need a moment, more than a moment, in the steady and profound company of Mary Oliver and I think you might need one too ... There's hardly a page in my copy of Upstream that isn't folded down or underlined and scribbled on, so charged is Oliver's language. What her language is not is sentimental or confessional ... Her essay here on Poe turns out to be the most compassionate piece on him I've ever read.
MixedNPRTruth to tell, as a work of the imagination, The Mothers isn't all it's hyped up to be. The plot and premise here feel canned. Indeed, much of the novel reads like a mash-up of Lifetime movie melodrama with Hallmark Channel social politics. To a certain extent though, The Mothers is redeemed by the presence of those same sharp perceptions that made Bennett's essay such a must read sensation ... But a work of fiction demands more than intermittently perceptive moments to come to life. Unfortunately, The Mothers lacks the narrative and linguistic energy to sustain a reader's belief in the world that Bennett has contrived.
RaveThe Washington Post...[an] exquisite new novel ... These rooms of Donoghue’s may be tiny and sealed off, yet they teem with life-and-death drama and great moral questions ... Donoghue manages to engage these larger mysteries of faith, doubt and evil without sacrificing the lyricism of her language or the suspense of her story line. Anna may or may not be a genuine 'living marvel,' but The Wonder certainly is.
PositiveNPRLoner begins as a sharply observed novel of manners, academic posturing and social distinctions on campus today. But it soon mutates into a classic tale of obsession. The overall effect is a bit jumbled. As a reader, I felt as though I'd been shoved off a college orientation tour straight into an advanced abnormal psych seminar. But if you don't mind the switch in style, Loner ultimately becomes a powerful and even a somewhat touching suspense story.
Jonathan Safran Foer
PositiveNPRDazzling and draining, dazzling and draining...Until the last hundred pages or so brought home the final verdict - just dazzling ... as absorbed as this novel is with those larger issues, it, too, like Jacob, privileges the personal over the political. Foer takes us deep into the despair that marks the crumbling of the Bloch family ... Here I Am is a profound novel about the claims of history, identity, family and the burdens of a broken world that weigh upon even the most cleverly evasive people.
RaveThe Washington Post...an exquisitely taut and intense debut thriller ... Under the Harrow is such a superbly crafted psychological thriller, it deserves to be celebrated for its own singular excellence.
RaveThe Washington Post...a masterful tale that’s both suspenseful and an eerily accurate portrait of the way teenage and parental cliques operate ... Throughout the novel, Abbott shrewdly dissects the cliques within cliques swirling within BelStars gym but never lets the suspense flag.
RaveNPR...a masterful thriller that also offers an eerily precise portrait of the way teenage and parental cliques operate ... It's Abbott's psychological smarts that make You Will Know Me such a standout ... You Will Know Me is a terrific accompaniment to this summer's Olympic frenzy. It's an all-around winner.
RaveNPR...a very funny and touching collection ... The title story is the best new short story I've read in light years ... Ryan's stories usually start off with mundane situations and then boldly go into the depths of emotional deep space ... a wry and smart collection — a beam of intelligent life from an author who clearly likes to probe the outer edges of the familiar.
Mary Mann Hamilton
PositiveNPR...it's the backstory that will first grab a reader, but it's Hamilton's gift for storytelling in her blunt voice that makes this memoir such a standout ... Hamilton's sprawling recollections of pioneer life add to the historical value of Trials of the Earth, even if some sections are ugly and tough to read.
PositiveThe Washington PostHand’s tale burrows in deep. Part of its power derives from the sheer exuberant strangeness of Hand’s storytelling ... Hand is also unflinching in her depiction of her bad-girl antiheroine. Cass has much in common with Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, but Cass is older and more grimly set in her antisocial ways ... The spooky finale of Hard Light leads readers deep into a macabre murder scene — courtesy of Edgar Allan Poe — that holds clues to the beginning of the art of photography itself. It’s a bravura ending that both lays some questions to rest and exhumes even more freshly disturbing images to trouble a reader’s peace of mind.
Ben H. Winters
RaveNPRAn extraordinary new novel of alternate history...Underground Airlines jolts readers to a heightened awareness, making us see just how much of the nightmare of what could have been is part of the all-too-familiar reality of what is ... Like all great works of suspense - and this is one suspenseful tale filled with double crosses and dangerous expeditions down drainage tunnels and into plantations - Underground Airlines is hyperattentive to details. The world Winters conjures up is chillingly credible.
PositiveNPRI bet some of you are thinking, who needs a novel about colostomy bags and grief? Oh, but you do need Schine's novel. At least, you do if you're a reader who relishes acute psychological perceptions and lots of laughs to leaven the existential grimness, like those other literary domestic goddesses to whom she's sometimes compared, Jane Austen and Nora Ephron ... Does anyone really ever do anyone else any good? That's the question this sparkling and sad novel mulls over and answers with a wry shrug.
PositiveNPRIn the course of investigating the enigma that always has been her father, Faludi considers the various strains of gender, ethnicity, religion and family that, perhaps, go into making someone who they are. At times, this wide-load technique slows down the narrative force of Faludi's book: a fat section, for instance, on the identity theories of Freud and Erik Erikson reads like an excerpt from a psych textbook. Elsewhere, however, Faludi's ambition is justified, such as when she considers the darker dimensions of the identity politics that fueled the Holocaust, as well as rising right-wing nationalist movements in Hungary and other Eastern European countries today...A compelling, exhausting, messy and provocative book, In the Darkroom seems like especially pertinent reading in these, our own dark times, when questions of identity keep coming to the fore, as matters of life and death.
MixedNPRGyasi's lyric and versatile language makes all the difference. She's only 26, yet she writes with authority about history and pulls her readers deep into her characters' lives through the force of her empathetic imagination ... it's a stagey premise, but Gyasi coaxes us into accepting this baroque situation through the conviction and, occasionally, even the playful novelty of her descriptions ... Homegoing would have been a stronger novel if it had ended sooner, perhaps on a moment like this one, where the urban crowd absorbs Robert in his whiteness, but silently rebuffs Willie. As the novel moves forward into our own time the pressure to wrap up the two storylines intensifies, and contrivance comes to the fore. But so many moments earlier on in this strong debut novel linger.
RaveNPRThe novel is so good it legitimately stands shoulder to padded, paranoid shoulder with the classics of the crime noir genre ... There are so many terrific elements in this novel, Nick's haunted character, a plot that never darts in the direction you expect it to and a truly ingenious climax that I could be here until Labor Day singing its praises.
RaveNPRHaving all these Berlin stories assembled together really gives a sense of their breadth: Berlin (and her fictional narrators) have seen it all — from the rich girls' schools in Chile, to the trailer parks and laundromats where folks live who routinely bum bus fare and beer money ... If you want consolation or uplift from your short stories, look elsewhere. Berlin had been around the block a few too many times to sugarcoat things. But her hard-earned, one-of-a-kind voice and vision make these stories well worth the pain.
PositiveNPRThe book is fierce and vivid in its depiction of the exhaustion of the spirit and the rending of the flesh during childbirth ... Those with delicate sensibilities should be forewarned: Erens never flinches here and in this incisive novel about birth, she bears witness to its beauty and brutality.
RaveNPRFor Haigh, Bakerton is becoming something akin to Faulkner's apocryphal Yoknapatawpha County. It's a place she's brought to life so scrupulously that she can delve deep, both into the minds and family histories of her mostly working-class characters, as well as into the land itself and the stories it contains. Heat & Light is her most ambitious — and compelling — novel yet ... As spectacular as Haigh's panoramic social focus is in this novel — whisking us from Dark Elephant's shareholders' meeting in Houston into Bakerton's taverns, the Wal-Mart, the local meth-head hangouts and storefront churches — she's also superb at getting us into the nitty gritty of her character's worldview, as well as their speech.
RaveThe Washington PostRogue Lawyer is so cleverly plotted, it could be used as a how-to manual in fiction-writing courses. Its opening chapters are self-contained, giving the impression that this will be a collection of short legal suspense stories, rather than a novel ... It’s a mark of just how fleet-footed and inventive Rogue Lawyer is to say that the Gardy trial — which is pretty suspenseful — is the weakest story line in the novel.
RaveNPR...what will make readers want to remain in the tired and sad company of Alvar's workers and wanderers is her own gorgeous writing style. Each one of the nine stories in this collection riffs on the theme of exile; yet, every main character's situation is distinct, morally messy in a different way, and unpredictable. Alvar is the kind of writer whose imagination seems inexhaustible, and who stirs up an answering desire in her readers for more and more stories.
RaveNPRThrough extensive interviews with survivors, she's constructed a minute-by-minute account of how the attack unfolded on the island — a narrative technique that could devolve into voyeurism but doesn't. That's because Seierstad depicts the students in all their messy adolescent humanity ... As hard as it is to read about the attack, as frustrating as it is to learn how many delaying mistakes the first responders made and as monstrous as Breivik is, the kids on that island that day were beautiful in their idealism. They deserve to be witnessed, which is the ultimate reason to read One of Us.
RaveNPRDominic Smith's novel about the eerie powers of art and the long reach of the past is every bit as harrowing in its own subtle way as its more physical counterpart...absolutely transporting...
PositiveNPRThe novel's source, no doubt, imbues it with authority, but its literary power derives from Bock's elastic language, stretching from his detailed inventories of extreme medical procedures to the lyric melancholy of his descriptions of mood and place...Alice & Oliver is both haunting and raw — a rare novel about cancer that, in this case, doesn't try to find meaning in serious illness, but rather gives its random malevolence its full due.
RaveNPRInnocents And Others is one of those uncanny novels whose characters and ideas linger long after the story is over. In the end, Spiotta's portrayal of artistic idealism and ambition is unexpectedly moving. As Meadow would say, what a mystery the way things act on us.
PositiveNPRSometimes, I have to say, the sinuous style of Oyeyemi's storytelling totally bewildered me; but when the tales are alive enough — and many of them are — I was willing to surrender my expectations of closure, of that 'click' of the door, that more traditional short stories usually end on. What is always a sure thing with Oyeyemi is her mastery of imagery and language — both of which are capable of being shocks to the system.
RaveNPRIt's the poetic precision of McGuire's harsh vision of the past that makes his novel such a standout. I suggested that initial Melville comparison because of McGuire's detailed accounts of whaling, of course, but he's more in line with Gothic writers like Mary Shelly and Poe who imagined the blank wastes of the Arctic as a kind of frozen hell. Like Sumner, we readers are enticed on board The Volunteer and then find ourselves swept along on what turns out to be a voyage of the damned.
RaveNPRThe Little Red Chairs is both a call to pleasure and duty. O'Brien's undiminished gifts as a storyteller draw us in and then awaken us to the limits of our own blinkered vision, the fragility of our own safe havens.
RaveNPRThroughout the over 500 pages of this elegant and devastating novel, Canin writes with authority about the likes of number theory, submanifolds and differential equations. But what he writes about with even more authority is the pressure to work, to produce, to achieve and the constant thrumming anxiety felt by his central character in particular that whatever special gifts one may have been graced with at birth could just as mysteriously disappear.
RaveNPRLaing bravely illuminates the dark contours of these difficult, sometimes even repulsive works and the extreme deprivation that produced them. In doing so, she campaigns against what she calls the gentrification of cities and of emotions. By that, she means the homogenizing, whitening, deadening effect that causes us to deny the existence of the shameful and the unwanted. The Lonely City is an odd and uncomfortable book - not consoling, but always provocative. And like so many of its weird solitary subjects, it's absolutely one-of-a-kind.
RaveNPREvoking the clash of tone and subject found in movies like The Producers and The Great Dictator, The Yid is a screwball farce about atrocity. History here is portrayed as a mad improvisation in which the actors take charge and manically rewrite the script even as they enact it. Paul Goldberg's animating intelligence gives all this madness a stunning coherence that these days we all too rarely get from either art or life.
RaveNPRWhatever literary category it falls into, The Portable Veblen winds up being totally endearing because it is so completely and originally itself ... McKenzie doesn't write cute. Instead, this is a quirky novel that respects itself and so doesn't try too hard to win a reader over. McKenzie imbues her characters with such psychological acuity that they, as well as the off-kilter world they inhabit, feel fully formed and authentic.
PositiveNPRHe may be old — ancient even — but his voice on the page is still as nimble and strong as that of the kid who talked his way into LaGuardia's office. As Angell tells it straight, it's not much of a pleasure to be very old, but it is a great pleasure to spend time in the company of This Old Man.
RaveNPRGaitskill's charged writing makes all things possible here — not only surmounting the sentimental premise of this situation, but, also, delving deep into characters' lives...The Mare is a raw, beautiful story about love and mutual delusion, in which the fierce erotics of mother love and romantic love and even horse fever are swirled together.
PositiveNPRThe final moment of this novel in particular is a killer. From the coziest and most familiar of fictional materials, Hadley has created a remarkable story, as disturbing as it is diverting.
PanNPR...it's chockablock with information that educates but doesn't entertain. Hijuelos hadn't yet found a way to dramatically convey whatever it was that obsessed him about Twain and Stanley's friendship and shape it into a story distinct from the historical record. In the end, Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise is a novel that makes you appreciate — unfortunately, by its absence — the magic that animates Hijuelos' best work.
PositiveThe Washington PostBosch may be out to pasture as far as the Los Angeles Police Department is concerned, but Connelly is still very much in his prime as a suspense writer. The Crossing is a pensive thriller that’s ingeniously constructed and ambitious in scope.
PositiveNPRUnlike Just Kids, whose linear plot was all about the thrill of 'becoming,' M Train is about enduring erosion. Its narrative, fittingly, is more allusive and incantatory, more like Smith's distinctive song lyrics.
PositiveNPRIn The Witches, Schiff may not lead us out of the dark, but she makes it an inviting place to linger a while and listen to fresh details of a familiar story all over again.
MixedNPR\"As engrossed as I was in the elaborate, clashing tales of [Lotto and Mathilde\'s] marriage, I didn\'t find myself caring at all about them or believing in them, for that matter. Granted, not every novel needs to be character-driven to be worth reading, and there are plenty of other reasons to read and admire Fates And Furies. It\'s just that without the presence of compelling characters at its core, Groff\'s novel ends up being an austere, architectural achievement. There are certainly worse things for a novel to be, but there are also better.\
Elena Ferrante, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
RaveNPR'The Neapolitan Novels,' taken together as one long epic that stretches from childhood to old age, are so smart about the darker currents of female friendships, the discrepancies between sexual desire and sexual politics, the high cost of a class migration like Elena's, and the ultimate 'velocity with which life [is] consumed.'