PositiveLocusThe power in this novel lies in protagonist Ijeọma, who seeks out her truth for herself. With discerning dialogue and elegant prose, Nwọka chronicles the rise, decline, and resistance of Ijeọma’s village of Ichulu through the tale of her imprisonment in a Christian church that claims to \'save\' witches and pagans ... a heavy book, but it is not designed to make a reader suffer, or realize the horrors of colonialism and missionary trips. The depictions of violence against children were difficult to read through, but at no point did the violence seem overtly graphic or designed to simply get a reaction from the reader. Rather, each scene was intentionally placed to make a larger point about wisdom and knowledge. I felt that the ending appropriately balanced grief, chaos, and redemption with the joyful youth that was robbed from Ijeọma and many of her fellow exiles in earlier chapters of the book.
Joanne M Harris
PositiveLocus MagHoneycomb drips with whimsy, mischief, and violent delight. Over the course of this dark, adult fantasy novel/collection (it’s truly a hybrid of the two), Harris offers us an astoundingly wide array of parables and tales that cover themes of power, love, empathy, self-sacrifice, and truth ... Harris imbues new meaning into various fairy tales without abandoning their sinister origins. From the cruel exploits of the selfish Lacewing King to the realpolitik of stubborn barnyard animals, she magicks a collection of dark fairy tales steeped in European tradition. Her strongest tales are those that remain within this cultural frame of reference, while those outside of it are weakened by exoticized descriptions of isolated religious desert societies. Charles Vess’s distinctive illustrations appear throughout the novel, enhancing the ancient, folklore-like feeling Harris evokes in each story.
MixedLocusNana Nkweti offers ten heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories that span genre, time, and species...all with effortless style and detail. Nkweti’s writing style is a mixture of sobering truths and eccentric scenarios spun into a glittering explosions—details are absolutely vivid and metaphors always clever. She takes risks with her writing and lands on her two feet each time ... While Nkweti creates some nuanced characters, her depiction of Black life in America is at times startlingly bad; many of the African Americans portrayed in the story are villains; always seeking a way to prove their worth and identity in a way that seemed inauthentic and ignorant at best. Some of her character names seemed cherry-picked from internet memes and old comedy sketches that capitalized on unfavorable depictions of Black women as welfare queens and Jezebels ... What makes these portrayals stand out even more is how they are juxtaposed with extremely well-written characters that are found throughout the book ... At the end of the day, it matters quite a bit to readers like myself that marginalized voices get a fair shot at a nuanced depiction. While Walking on Cowrie Shells did not fully deliver that, it was vivacious and confident—Nkweti’s steady hand guides us over the sharp cowrie shells of identity, desire, and the pressure cooker of expectations, all with a style and rhythm that is rare to find.
RaveLocus... saturated with tropes of the gothic genre ... Szabo delivers on the weirdness, menacing pace, and unsettling themes. Half the fun of the novel was reading depictions of this bizarre house and its inhabitants. The other half of the fun was when the book was over, and I realized that I could have never predicted Eleanor’s disturbing revelations about herself and her family ... but each character was so confidently flawed and unwilling to change that I became a passive bystander while reading ... Aside from Eleanor’s naivety, there was an awkward childish element to each adult character that made it seem as if they were playing dress up in a house that no longer fit them. The unease never seemed to end, and Szabo deserves a heaping amount of praise for consistently sustaining this mood throughout the book ... What I really enjoyed is how well atmospheric and detailed Szabo made this story ... a deliciously creepy story about irredeemable family secrets and the monsters we contain within ourselves. The pieces of this book work like an elaborate puzzle, but are worth putting together by the last page.
RaveLocusElhillo weaves elegantly disruptive lyrics into the novel against the backdrop of 9/11—when our beloved main characters’ lives are torn into by malicious, angry strangers. Elhillo’s verse slowly unravels the trauma that led Nima’s mother to the US ... Elhillo does an excellent job exploring the mother’s trauma and other side characters without erasing Nima’s character arc ... Elhillo’s story is cohesive and the narrative is easy to follow, even if some poems diverge from the main plotline ... The largest marks against this book are some of its fussy formatting and strange stylistic choices. Even after reading the book several times, I couldn’t understand what purpose the formatting served. I eventually grew accustomed to it, but picking the book up after some time away made it difficult to immerse myself in the plot again. Frequent use of ampersands was distracting (even if clever) for the first few poems it was featured in, as well as the spacing of some poems. However, those small, distracting details pale in comparison to the vast swath of emotions that Elhillo manages to capture ... a beautifully written tale that tackles questions of home and urges caution when it comes to romanticizing lives we could have lived, and the what ifs that can haunt generations.
RaveLocus... read slowly. This is sage advice—if you pick through his words too quickly, you might miss a fateful turn within a story or a sentence that will steal your soul away. Reading slowly in the case of Prayer for the Living means savoring each word, sentence, and story, even if it’s unclear what direction they are aiming for. But that’s the adventure and thrill of Okri’s collection: you never know which shocking end or mystical place he will take you to next. Within each story, Okri takes us on a journey across worlds that are only accessible in dreams and moments before death . Prayer for the Living does not fit neatly under a particular genre, even under the wider speculative genre. It’s certainly not magical realism, nor is it some other easy, two-word summary. Moreover, it is a book whose success is not measured by pacing. Rather, its success should be measured by how well it can evoke deep, soul-gripping unsettlement and disillusionment, and how long that feeling lasts after the final page ... Regardless of where Ben Okri takes his readers, he does so with a steady, confident hand, even in ambiguity.
PositiveLocus[The] snarky and (sometimes) cringey first-person point of view conveys Doctorow’s unsettlingly realist perspective on surveillance and internet freedom quite well ... The surprising things about this book are its heavy-handed technical descriptions and its willingness to confront present-day political events. The stakes are high and even more personal because they directly relate to current American and Eastern European politics ... Doctorow has his finger on the pulse of ethical technology use and data privacy – the research he has put into this project is astounding, but his knowledge of this technology’s real-world impact impresses me the most ... Doctorow asks questions that keep us up at night and exhibits real courage in trying to answer them ... an uncomfortable read. Whistleblowers are heroes (the front cover has a resounding endorsement from Edward Snowden), BLM activists are unequivocally good, police officers have gone too far, and anyone neutral about the issue is a bad guy. And I’m glad that it is uncomfortable. Neutrality on these issues is an incredible bore to read – anyone can look the other way when protests are happening, but Doctorow reminds (American readers, especially) that many citizens already live in dystopias, and these dystopias thrive when we stop trying to reform them.