RaveSierraSolnit lets her readers glimpse a side of Orwell rarely noted by other commentators. Count the references in his work to plants, farming, flowers, and nature, Solnit writes, and the pattern becomes more visible ... Based on Solnit\'s accounting of Orwell\'s deeply held appreciation of the natural world, it is time to reassess the connotation of the adjective [Orwellian] to something open to beauty in its many guises, committed to the truth, and protective of gardens and farms and forests, large and small. With precise control and boundless curiosity, Solnit has produced a work of biography and nature writing that makes readers see the enduring and the ephemeral in entirely new ways, free from cliché and obfuscation.
RavePortland Press HeraldAs far-fetched as the thriller plot might be, King wants to ground it in reality enough so that his readers willingly suspend their disbelief when he needs them to. Eventually, Billy’s plans come to fruition, though not in the way he expects. And Billy Summers the novel takes a sharp, unexpected twist that propels it into new territory. To talk much about the second half of the book is to rob it of some of its ingenuity. A new character joins the cast, one as almost as dynamic as Billy, and together they form a formidable, if unlikely, team ... the perfect summertime treat—solidly crafted, deliciously suspenseful and surprisingly heartfelt. King plays to all his strengths: deep characterization, clever plotting and this time an ending that seems both logical and well earned ... an incisive character study wrapped inside a road novel, coupled with a very unconventional love story.
PositiveSierraAppleseed starts slowly, its triune structure requiring patience and faith on the reader’s part that Chapman, John, and C-443 will prove equally interesting. Once the narrative gathers momentum, much of the fun of the novel comes from watching the connections accumulate between the various threads ... In a novel suffused in loss, Chapman\'s story of Western expansion by foot is especially moving ... The parts set in the near future have a welcome cyberthriller edge to them ... Bell makes clear that climate catastrophe has drastically altered the world, while his characters struggle to contend with their new realities.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorA lively, mostly chronological history of ideas extending from 18th-century botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus to modern-day biochemist Jennifer Doudna ... What Beloved Beasts also makes clear is that agreement even between like-minded individuals is difficult ... not didactic, but it’s still a call to action. And it has compassionate advice for readers who yearn for resilience amid the pandemic and the climate crisis ... With urgency, passion, and wit, Nijhuis recognizes those possibilities clearly and writes both to preserve history and predict what may lie ahead ... Alternately heartbreaking and encouraging, Beloved Beasts proposes a larger vision of stewardship – one that extends beyond just winsome or majestic creatures to encompass the entire planet.
PositivePortland Press HeraldOh, the novellas contain familiar tropes—a haunted memento, a slow-motion apocalypse, a shape-shifting mass murderer and a deal with a devil. But what’s most unsettling about If It Bleeds is something subtler than these big-ticket horrors, something that speaks to a new kind of darkness in the world ... There is many a Faustian bargain to be found in fantasy literature and folklore, but King brings sufficient inventiveness to this latest example to make it worthwhile, especially in its final, twisty pages ... But even through the horror, there’s a lot of hope and gratitude on display in the book as a whole ... King has done some of his best work at novella length, especially in his first collection, Different Seasons, from which came The Body and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. The stories in If It Bleeds don’t quite hit those high-water marks, but they supply plenty of creepy entertainment at a time when even a horror story can provide a welcome distraction from reality.
PositiveEast Bay Express...a sharply observed exploration of empty nesting, gentrification, and intercultural intimacy ... Big Familia doesn\'t dish out big, steaming heaps of drama. Rather, it recounts the smaller moments where a few ill-chosen words can have far-reaching repercussions, such as filling out financial-aid applications with a former spouse or dealing with lacy underwear left on the bathroom floor.
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldCasey is a sharply observant main character, with a narrative voice that both sparkles and sometimes cuts. She is serious about being a writer, but doesn’t take that seriousness too far ... What does seem underplayed is Casey’s relationship with her deceased mother. King writes touchingly about the mother’s absence and the grief it inspires ... King has either waited tables or otherwise done her research, because the restaurant scenes, rendered in telling detail, bubble with energy. Casey has her rough edges, but she’s a thoroughly engaging protagonist. King writes dialogue that’s funny, melancholy and sometimes raw ... King mostly keeps the various conflicts in balance, veering away from both the melodramatic and the banal ... Charming, insightful and witty, Writers & Lovers is a perfect book for spring, offering hope that desire can be re-kindled, that grief can be held at bay and that good books will find publishers and an audience.
Kate Elizabeth Russell
PositivePortland Press HeraldMy Dark Vanessa sometimes reads like a thriller, especially as the behavior of both Strane and Vanessa becomes more unpredictable ... My Dark Vanessa benefits from the fact that it comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement. A character mentions a high-profile film director who \'enjoyed exposing himself to young actresses,\' and Strane is undone partly through the power of social media. But even without its timeliness, Russell’s novel is a remarkably assured debut – direct in its handling of an emotionally charged subject, sly in the unreliability of its difficult yet likable protagonist. With any luck, it will not be two decades before we hear from Russell again.
RavePortland Press HeraldDazzlingly versatile in style, format and subject matter ... The supporting cast includes a number of...vivid personalities ... She vividly conjures up an era when women and girls were regarded as poseable objects, and the serial killer main plot certainly hammers that theme home ... a thriller to be savored—tough, funny, strange and revelatory.
RaveThe Miami Press-HeraldOlive, Again rewards reading at an unhurried pace, in a comfortable chair, rather than on a windy beach. If the subject matter tends toward the dark end of the spectrum, there are still flashes of comforting light ... By highlighting various Crosby residents beset by troubles, it grapples with day-to-day heartbreaks, offers occasional moments of solace and speaks to what it means to live in Maine year-round ... Olive, Again marks a welcome return of an indelible character, one who speaks to a wide audience of devoted readers. The novel wrestles with loneliness, sickness and death, but it also embraces life, love and hope. Strout has delivered a compelling sequel for her signature character, a satisfyingly contemplative novel, perfect for the season.
PositivePortland Press HeraldAs he has demonstrated initially in Carrie and later in IT, the novella The Body and many other books, King excels at depicting children and teens in crisis. In Luke, King presents a prodigy who is smart without being obnoxious, someone readers can root for without reservation ... As he has shown in books such as Under the Dome, King understands that fascism is something to be scared of, that monsters don’t always have fur or fangs, just a will to put someone else under their thumbs. The incidents of violence against children don’t feel far-fetched, sad to say ... The Institute puts a new spin on a familiar conceit, not so much making the plot unpredictable as updating it for the current political climate. As grim as Luke and his friends’ predicament is, a thread of optimism runs through the narrative. Terrible things befall the children, but there’s still reason to be hopeful, a notion to hang on to past the final page.
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldTara, Shannon and Abby are interesting and vivid characters – strong, resourceful and flawed women capable of facing the worst adversity. Koryta gives each major female character at least one set piece in which they demonstrate their grit and courage. He especially imbues Tara with the right combination of fear and fortitude, as someone in terrible jeopardy but not succumbing to self-pity ... But the real star of If She Wakes is its villain ... Koryta keeps the suspense cranked high, but the narrative’s urgency spikes whenever Dax is in the scene. He’s charming, surprising and deadly, and Koryta puts him to good use throughout the entire thriller ... lays with a familiar thriller trope, the durable old MacGuffin. Rather than a device used to trap tigers in the Scottish Highlands, here the MacGuffin is a cell phone of some kind, one equipped with facial recognition features...As the phone moves from character to character, the game of high-tech hot-potato may grow a little tiresome for some readers ... [Koryta\'s] prose is engaging and well detailed, but still concise. He’s more than capable of eliciting a gasp with an unexpected, thoroughly logical revelation ... With its devious plotting, likable main characters and unconventionally frightening antagonist, If She Wakes may keep readers up well into the night.
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle\"Winters is well aware of the tropes of dystopian noir, and it is fun to watch him mix and match them to good effect ... Winters concocts twisted phraseology that points out the difficulty in speaking about what is Objectively So, and he does a good job of stoking the engines of futuristic paranoia. The detective plot works well, but it is in its questioning of the nature of truth and falsehood that the novel excels ... Smart, intricate and propulsive, Golden State is proof that Winters deserves our continued attention as one of crime fiction’s most inventive practitioners.\
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"Atkinson’s new novel, Transcription, features both temporal tricks and layers of deceit ... Although engrossing from beginning to end, Transcription starts at a measured pace, with the tandem narratives only gradually gaining velocity. But when they are finally in sync and operating at peak capacity, the result is exhilarating ... Transcription is another triumph for Atkinson — suspenseful, moving, insightful and original.\
Maria Dahvana Headley
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle...Headley imbues The Mere Wife with the trappings of myth, from a deadly sword to a disembodied arm, from a dragon to a pack of formidable mothers. Fantasy and realism mix in an ambiguous, audacious genre-bender. The Mere Wife is a sly satire of suburbia, wittily detailed and narratively bold. Above all, Headley’s novel, with its roots in ancient legend, proves especially relevant in this time of heightened fear of the Other.
RavePortland Press HeraldPortland author Kate Christensen’s take on high seas adventure is all her own, though–perceptive, sophisticated, propulsive. The Last Cruise is surely not the last word on this kind of novel, but it’s a bracing example of popular storytelling with a literary twist ... With its sparkling dialogue, charming cast of characters and seemingly low-stakes conflicts, The Last Cruise at first appears merely to be an oceanic comedy of manners ... Among its many pleasures, The Last Cruise feels especially well researched ... Christensen lays out the details with authority, not letting trivia overwhelm the pace of the narrative but lending a strong sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings ... Christensen steers the story, streamlined yet substantial, through turbulent waters, but never loses track of its current of humanity.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleSummerland is like a John le Carré thriller with a spiritualist twist ... Mixing different versions of early 20th century political history and employing bizarre technologies not immediately explained, Summerland does not warmly embrace the casual reader ... [Rajaniemi] starts the narrative at a gallop and expects readers to keep up. Those with patience enough to be confused for a time will likely find themselves eventually rewarded.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleIt takes a special talent to devise an apocalypse that feels original ... Trail of Lightning offers a detailed portrait of Dine culture, enjoyably accessible to non-Navajo readers. The fantastic elements of the plot are attention-grabbers ... smartly paced, with character development and action sequences expertly interspersed ... Roanhorse possesses a sure hand and a singular vision, and she establishes her credentials as a novelist with this ambitious, exciting and well-executed first book.
RavePortland Press HeraldThe stories gradually introduce a cast of richly rendered characters ... Although some story collections encourage readers to skip around willy-nilly, the selections in Outside Is the Ocean ought to be read in order for maximum impact. Lansburgh, winner of the 2017 Iowa Short Fiction Award, excels at offhandedly dropping narrative questions and answering them many pages later ... The humor and the sadness contained in each story seem unforced, balanced so that neither overwhelms Outside Is the Ocean.
RaveThe Portland Press HeraldJuska constructs If We Had Known with intelligence, sensitivity...digging deep into her characterizations and settings. She depicts an uncomfortable mother/daughter dynamic, two intelligent women coming undone in very particular ways but eventually finding the courage to face their fears together and on their own ... Juska offers few clues about the motivations of [shooter] Nathan Dugan, which is exactly the correct choice given how few real-life incidents like this offer clear-cut answers. Juska also critiques the lure of social media, clearly and smartly depicting its potential for unthinking destructiveness.
PositivePortland Press Herald...carefully paced, rendered in lively prose and supporting a handful of interesting subplots ... With its hidden and manipulative antagonist, Shelter in Place might remind some readers of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes ... lively and thoughtful summer reading.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleWhat Should Be Wild is a rich blend of myth and modernity, set early in the first decade of the current century, but drawing influence from the poetry of William Blake and Robert Graves’ The White Goddess ... An intricately contrived feminist fantasy, What Should Be Wild explores the urges of the body, the nature of desire and the power of the spirit. The novel offers ample portions of adventure, suspense and humor and marks the arrival of a formidable new talent.
RavePortland Press Herald\"The hefty new novel from Stephen King is a skillful blend of classic crime fiction and the author\'s trademark horror twists ... Seeming to be in good health and spirits, King has also knuckled down to do what he does best – produce gripping novels and short stories of terror and suspense ... At nearly 600 pages, The Outsider isn’t exactly a streamlined thriller. Yet, it doesn’t feel bloated or self-indulgent. Anderson, Maitland and the supporting cast are so deftly drawn, their predicaments so fraught with menace, that the momentum of the narrative builds steadily and keeps the pages turning ... Yet for all its gracefulness, the plot twist may disappoint some readers. Following the pivot, The Outsider shifts from the realistic police procedural to supernatural horror novel. King delights in blending genres, but in this case, it’s better when he sticks to just one ... King appears to be on a hot streak, that he extends with The Outsider. Big, complex and inventive, it’s a well-honed continuation of his interest in the intersection of crime and horror fiction, demonstrating his consummate skill with both.\
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleBelly Up provides a mix of snappy short-shorts and longer, more intricate pieces ... Bullwinkel’s style shifts from story to story, occasionally antic but more often than not hilariously deadpan. She’s adept at finding the indelible image ... each story is adventurous in attitude and unique in intent.
Catherynne M. Valente
RaveThe Portland Press Herald\"Catherynne M. Valente touches on some serious intergalactic themes in her latest sci-fi gem, but it’s the humor in her over-the-top prose that keeps the reader engaged … and chuckling ... Valente’s jazzy run-on sentences can become a bit exhausting, but rapid-fire syntactic overindulgence befits the proceeds. “Space Opera” is all about going over the top and turning the volume up to 11, and Valente pushes her prose and plotting to the outer limits of silliness ... Although it touches upon serious issues, Space Opera succeeds mostly by being charming, fast and funny. That’s more than enough reward for readers at a time when so much of popular culture, science fiction especially, is dreary and dire. Valente has long been a talent to watch. Now that her work has been sufficiently surveilled, Space Opera proves that it’s time to upgrade her status to that of a reliable maverick, someone who can be depended on to deliver the off-kilter and unexpected goods, no matter what subject she tackles.\
RavePortland Press HeraldTo relate more of the plot would be to rob the novel of its many pleasurable twists and turns. Tangerine is likely to remind mystery buffs of the work of Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History, and of Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Mangan’s plotting has the crackling unpredictability of Ruth Rendell ... Tangerine is meant to be consumed at a rapid pace, so no time is left over to poke at the plausibility of its reversals ... Mangan plays with familiar tropes, but she deploys them with wit, insight and precision ... Tangerine is a welcome and refreshing burst of literary tartness, a deliciously juicy summer read.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe plot of Down the River Unto the Sea unspools neatly, recounted in a sleek, streetwise and captivating voice. Some of the book’s elements feel overly familiar, however ... Down the River Unto the Sea is a well-constructed crime novel, urgent in its plotting and carefully observed in the behaviors and the voices of its supporting cast.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleColin Winnette’s short, sharp shock of a novel will convince readers that only the worst can happen among a gloomy collection of administrators, teachers and students … The narrator proves to be anything but reliable, and that’s the creepy fun of The Job of the Wasp — the gap between what the boy witnesses and what he understands … Despite its many influences, Winnette’s book, however, is its own unique, surreal thing, related in a distinctive voice, by turns funny and spooky, even if its ultimate meaning remains elusive.
Ursula K. Le Guin
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"She is particularly concerned with the process of aging, and writes without sentimentality about growing older. In \'The Diminished Thing,\' she addresses the tendency of young people to brush off an elder’s longevity with the assertion that they’re not old. Le Guin knows better. She is not one to complain unduly, but she’s realistic about her physical and mental limitations ... The pleasures of No Time to Spare are small-scale. None of the entries feel tossed off, nor do any feel labored. The best quickly capture the voice we’ve come to identify as Le Guin’s: wry, measured, insightful, accepting of life’s messiness while determined to act as morally as possible ... It is good to see Le Guin receive the appreciation she so deeply deserves. As No Time to Spare demonstrates, she is a genuine American Master, one who offers hope and wisdom in dark times.\
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleIt's a hodgepodge of material, containing everything from a pastiche of both Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft to a shared-world story based on the first Matrix movie … Readers who expect Gaiman to adhere to the styles and subjects he's used before are likely to have a mixed reaction to Fragile Things. Those with a taste for inventive idiosyncrasy will find themselves amply rewarded.
PanThe San Francisco ChronicleArtemis takes some chances and shares some strengths with The Martian, but the book never achieves liftoff, held back by heavy-handed plotting, facile characterizations and a narrator who’s not as funny as she thinks she is ... Weir sets Artemis up as a quasi-caper novel, a kind of futuristic Ocean’s 11. This is not a bad idea at all. But to be successful, a good heist novel should possess elements that Weir either fumbles or ignores ... Jazz’s constant wisecracking, however, quickly grows tiresome, and her narration doesn’t sound the least bit plausible ... Weir should not be expected to match or exceed his initial success. That level of notoriety is a lot for any fledgling author to be burdened with. But however Weir decides to follow up Artemis, he should recalibrate his internal gauge of what his story really needs, perhaps cutting back on the quips while strengthening the multidimensionality of his cast of heroes and villains.
RaveThe Portland Press HeraldHow do you make sense of a hard-working, devoted young mother being brutally killed while her daughter cowers in a nearby room? That’s the question Sarah Perry attempts to answer in her harrowing, haunting new memoir, After the Eclipse … Rather than recount her mother’s murder and its aftermath chronologically, Perry employs a more ambitious structure in the first half of her memoir. Chapters designated ‘Before’ alternate with ones from ‘After,’ establishing a counterpoint that increases the suspense of the narrative and illuminates more starkly the connections between the Sarah’s family and the town of Bridgton … After the Eclipse is a sensitive, searing and nuanced exploration of family ties torn asunder.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIn six pages, Murray creates an entire world of teen angst, sophomoric humor, social satire and existential despair. After the prologue, Murray jumps back to chronicle the events leading up to the gluttonous showdown at Ed's Doughnut House, before employing the final third of this deeply engaging novel to detail the aftermath of Skippy's demise … Murray does an exemplary job of capturing the voices of Skippy and his compatriots - the dirty jokes, the cruel nicknames, the endless speculation about sex and the other presumed perks of adulthood. The boys are continuously funny, annoying and heartbreakingly naive. The grown-ups range from well-meaning yet feckless to outright sadistic ... one of the most enjoyable books of the year.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...Naomi Alderman’s The Power takes a simple-seeming science fiction premise — what if women were suddenly more physically powerful than men? — and spins a dystopian tale that is elegant, elaborate, insightful and frightening in its implications ...follows four primary characters as they navigate a world in which women can suddenly emit lethal jolts of electricity, able to disable or kill with a touch ...possesses the urgency of a well-tuned thriller, but it is a serious-minded examination of religion, sex, identity and politics ...shifts viewpoints and settings with ease and builds scenes that crackle with narrative energy ...stands out in a crowded field of latter-day disaster novels, an ingenious and accomplished tale that delivers unforeseen surprises and unexpected insights to the very end.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleGabe Hudson’s new novel is much like its title character and teen narrator — goofy, eager-to-please and a bit annoying ... Hudson seems to be taking cues from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with perhaps a smattering of Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Campbell and Mark Twain thrown in for good measure. If Gork’s narrative voice can be a little overbearing and repetitive over the course of nearly 400 pages, chalk it up to adolescent exuberance. Anyone who has ever sat through a teenage rom-com can chart the arc of this narrative, but the fun is in the gonzo, sci-fi/fantasy details. Sweet-natured Gork faces deadly threats and learns lessons about love, poetry, and his own strengths and weaknesses. By the time he returns to Earth for the final battle, only the hardest-hearted reader will begrudge him his moment of glory.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...in the follow-up, The Magician King, Grossman continues Quentin's adventures, taking him from the cozy monotony of his kingship at Castle Whitespire to a sea voyage to the End of the World and back. This time, the knowing, self-referential tone is the same, but Grossman drives his characters from their postcollegiate shallows toward the rocky shores of genuine adulthood ...is a much more relaxed novel than its predecessor. There are plenty of plot complications, character moments and elaborate set pieces, but Grossman seems more confident in his storytelling this time, less concerned with cramming in every cool thing he can think of ...avoids middle-book syndrome (assuming Grossman plans to write more books set in this universe, which seems highly likely) by presenting a tale that builds on what came before while feeling complete unto itself.
Stephen King & Owen King
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleSleeping Beauties, King’s new collaboration with his son Owen, again uses the small-town trope to good effect ...a sublime bit of Kingian dialogue, with the optimal mix of the creepy, the nauseating and the scientifically unlikely ...point of view bounces around among a large cast of characters beyond the Norcross household, and some folks are more pleasant company than others. The villains are suitably awful and reasonably multidimensional ...female characters aren’t all saints, but the Kings make it abundantly clear which is the more violent and destructive sex ...novel provides enough action, thrills and humor to keep readers burning the midnight oil, but some may feel a bit let down by the book’s familiar air. There’s comfort to be found in tales such as this, but one might wish for more risk taking ...Sleeping Beauties hits many expected beats but never ventures far into the unpredictable ...a well-tooled horror thriller, a worthy venture from a productive family business.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleMitchell has a fondness for literary puzzles and narrative sleights of hand, and part of the great fun of The Bone Clocks lies in trying to ascertain each narrator’s connection to Holly … Characters in The Bone Clocks speak of being part of — of writing themselves into — ‘the Script,’ some sort of underlying principle that governs reality and connects people, places and events across vast distances in time and space. The locution might strike some readers as so much metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, but it’s actually quite apt. Mitchell relishes the act of creation, of devising a script for his characters to follow, of revealing the patterns of behavior that underlie humanity. He’s a master of adopting drastically different perspectives and voices, extracting the stories his characters only tell themselves in the deepest parts of their consciousnesses.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleDear Cyborgs is structured as a series of sometimes nesting, sometimes interrupting monologues, the speakers of which aren’t always clearly identified. The shifting perspectives allow Lim to switch moods, subjects and topics abruptly, lending the book a sense of unsettling unpredictability ... Various characters and concepts from throughout the novel converge in the final chapters. The ultimate message of Dear Cyborg remains open to interpretation, but adventurous readers will be glad they teamed up with Lim.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe Passage opens strongly, working best in its initial 250 pages, as Wolgast struggles to protect Amy against his employers and the holocaust they unwittingly unleash. The chapters are action-packed, the details of Project Noah intriguing and chilling, and the agent's relationship with the girl develops in a way that acknowledges both Amy's uniqueness and her common humanity … He deftly choreographs a couple of big, cinematic set pieces, but also knows how to orchestrate the small, character-shaping moments. He wisely keeps his vampires under wraps, for the most part, revealing them only when the stakes are highest.
RaveThe Portland Press Herald...filled with more than its fair share of nastiness and terror, it also occasionally reveals moments of bruised tenderness and pitiful insight ... Schmidt does an excellent job of finding a unique voice for each viewpoint character and of structuring the narrative so that crucial scenes can be replayed and re-imagined ... Powerful, eerie and insightful, See What I Have Done sheds a different light on what once seemed an open-and-shut case.
Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleNeal Stephenson and Nicole Galland devise a premise that feels both familiar and fresh, mixing magic and science to pleasurable effect ... Stephenson has many sterling qualities — a playful sense of humor, a willingness to tackle big subjects with accuracy and rigor, a facility with thriller plots that contain well-hidden surprises. These traits are all on display in The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. He and Galland work so smoothly in tandem that the seams of their collaboration don’t show ... a high-stakes techno-farce with brains and heart, likely to be enjoyed by anyone willing to lift its more than 700 pages.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleLike one of the eponymous magicians in her massive new novel, Susanna Clarke has arrived on the literary scene seemingly from out of nowhere ...Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is being talked up as 'Harry Potter for adults'...in her full-length fiction debut she displays great verbal dexterity and a firm command of narrative technique ...first 200 pages or so are full of witty dialogue, cunning observations and intriguing footnotes, but it's not clear at first whether this book will be anything more than a lovingly crafted pastiche, an overly extended exercise in style and tone more to be admired than enjoyed ... What distinguishes Jonathan Strange more than anything else is its good humor and expansive heart. Clarke displays her characters' foibles without making fools of them, and if Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell doesn't exactly end happily, it ends fittingly.
Stieg Larsson, Translated by Reg Keeland
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe final volume, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, has now been published in the United States, and it picks up in the immediate aftermath of its predecessor, The Girl Who Played With Fire … Most of the flaws of the earlier volumes remain. Although there's nothing as egregious as the first 100 pages of Dragon Tattoo, Larsson relies too often on bald exposition, page after page of dry non-narrative that explains necessary historical and political background … What saves the enterprise is Larsson's absolute commitment to the material. He knows how to set a scene and milk it of every last drop of suspense. He understands what makes Lisbeth Salander so fascinating and gives her worthy opponents to struggle against …succeeds in its primary objective, bringing to a satisfying conclusion the dramatic arc begun in the first volume.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleLaValle expertly builds a sense of growing dread as Apollo embarks on a quest for retribution, navigating a New York imbued with treacherous magic. The novel cleverly mixes folklore with modern technology. Rapunzel and the Norwegian hero Askeladden play their parts, and so do iPhone apps and Facebook. Especially apt is the notion that using social media is akin to inviting a vampire to enter through your bedroom window. And what kind of creature is it that uses the Internet to sow the seeds of turmoil? ... A supporting character says at one point, 'A bad fairy tale has some simple goddamn moral. A great fairy tale tells the truth.' The Changeling is a great fairy tale, and LaValle conveys the truth about love, marriage, magic and the stories that attempt to make sense of an often dangerous world.
MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleThe strength of 11/22/63 lies in its willingness to explore the many ways the past remains, as Jake puts it, ‘obdurate.’ It pushes back against attempts at change; the bigger the change, the harder the push … The weak point of the novel, however, is Jake's motivation for jumping into the past and trying to alter the future … With 11/22/63, the climactic race against time and fate proves as torturous and loaded with irony as one might hope. King devises an ending that satisfies the questions raised by the initial premise and, even better, delivers in the denouement a perfect emotional note of simultaneous regret and fulfillment.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleDoctorow has given a lot of thought to the practical and political underpinnings of his fictional world, and he mostly assumes his readers will be able to keep up with him ... That’s a lot of technical jargon to unpack, and some potential readers might not have the patience for it. Those who persevere, however, will be rewarded by Doctorow’s deft plotting, his fondness for geeky humor and his knack for creating idiosyncratic, whip-smart characters.
For all the disasters it details, Walkaway imparts a genuine conviction that the world can be a better place, if only we would work to make it so. This big, expansive book’s utopian bent is earned, rather than merely asserted, and readers eager for some encouraging words in times of trouble will not be disappointed.
RaveThe Portland Press Herald...the dark satire of Mother Land, the fictional chronicle of one family’s struggles with the most manipulative of matriarchs. Theroux’s new novel follows the adult members of the large and unruly Justus clan of Cape Cod, in the aftermath of Father’s hospitalization and eventual death ... As he recounts his version of his family story, JP acknowledges the unlikelihood of seven siblings existing in any kind of harmony ... Page by page, his Mother Land is engrossing and amusing, a sharp-eyed domestic comedy of greed, resentment and the ties that strangle ... The Justus kids are clearly defined characters, each with recognizable tics and traits, but they don’t change much over time ... Without stooping to sentimentality, the resolution of Mother Land is both moving and apt, the comedy and the tragedy deployed in equal measure.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe crucial question for them becomes, 'Is Borne a person or is he a weapon?' VanderMeer’s answer is urgent and harrowing. Borne seems to be an anomaly, one who desperately seeks some kind of kinship, always frustrated when he can’t find anyone or anything remotely like him. Borne speaks to the universal need for connection and the quest for love and acceptance. VanderMeer’s apocalyptic vision, with its mix of absurdity, horror and grace, can’t be mistaken for that of anyone else. Inventive, engrossing and heartbreaking, Borne finds him at a high point of creative accomplishment.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle[Void Star] reads like something William Gibson might have concocted in the ’90s, a far-ranging, globe-trotting tale of memory, mortality and artificial intelligence ... With Void Star, Mason proves that he is also adept at building a credible near-future, choreographing three-part edge-of-your-seat plotting and emulating the mirror-shades-at-midnight cool of onetime cyberpunks such as Gibson ... Void Star treats the best aspects of cyberpunk with respect and imagination and adds its own fresh speculations about AIs and other digital marvels. Mason is clearly a versatile talent, and his second novel may be a harbinger of even more ambitious work to come.
Omar El Akkad
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleAlthough he sets American War in the future, El Akkad has his vision fixed squarely on current events. Waterboarding, rendition, extreme interrogation, rising coastlines and domestic terrorism all play their part in the story. But American War avoids becoming a polemic. Its characters are too vivid and contradictory, its twists of plot too well constructed, for the novel to settle for familiar and obvious messages … Nobody enters the world a soldier, but El Akkad doesn’t shrink from delineating how easily they can be created. The Chestnuts are wrecked by the war, and the nation itself will pay a heavy price for their destruction. As the initially unidentified narrator says, ‘This isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.’
RaveThe Portland Press HeraldTinti expertly doles out and withholds information, dropping clues and amplifying the suspense with each backward-looking interlude, until all the details fall into place and drive the action to its explosive climax. Full of unpredictable twists, each 'bullet chapter' complements the next step in Loo’s coming-of-age story. In less skilled hands, the mix of genres might grate, but Tinti justifies each of her choices. Funny, suspenseful and heartbreaking, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is an engrossing story, a deeply pleasurable yarn, the kind that’s easy to get lost in. Tinti has set herself a herculean literary task, and she accomplishes it, not with brute force, but with wit, aplomb and a love of adventure.
Kim Stanley Robinson
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleNew York 2140 is indisputably a science fiction novel, but one rooted deeply in history and popular culture. The diverse points of view allow Robinson to riff on various genres, from police procedural to romantic comedy, political cyberthriller to historical travelogue, disaster novel to pirate adventure ... a big, playful and thoroughly engrossing book, generous in spirit and very serious about the political issues it raises. Robinson excels at keeping the narrative moving across multiple characters and topics of conversation, maintaining the necessary level of suspense while taking time to investigate intriguing tangents to the primary plot.
One reaches the end of New York 2140 with a smile and at least the momentary belief that the future might work out after all.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleA director, writer and producer, Tolkin may be best known for his novel The Player and its film adaptation directed by Robert Altman. NK3 is a much bleaker Hollywood story, but with flashes of antic wit and honestly earned compassion. Each shift in the narrative’s point of view is heralded by the names of the characters who appear in the section. It’s a useful strategy, in that the cast is large and somewhat unwieldy. Confronted by names like 'AutoZone,' 'Go Bruins' and 'Madeinusa,' many readers will need help keeping track of everybody. But the names also remind one of how easily people are turned into commodities, how slippery the grip on identity can be, how there’s always someone ready to set themself up as the savior of civilization. Just because someone is known as 'Chief' doesn’t mean he can keep his followers fed forever. At a time of alternative facts and a bend toward cultural amnesia, NK3 feels especially prescient.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"Gaiman’s prose is bright and fluid, his storytelling clear and cogent, discarding any scholarly stuffiness. The individual chapters are filled with telling moments and magical details. As outlandish as their behavior can be, the motivations of the gods are made more understandable in this version. Unlike Greek and Roman tales that were written down, Norse myth was an oral tradition, its tales recounted but rarely recorded. Norse Mythology ably captures the essence of a myth cycle that deserves to be better known, in an edition likely to speak to readers of all ages.\
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe strategy takes a little getting used to, but Saunders is so adept in differentiating each character’s voice that it is usually easy to determine who is speaking at any given time ... A virtuoso of the short form, Saunders demonstrates that his considerable gifts work just as splendidly on a wider canvas. Sad, funny and wise, Lincoln in the Bardo marks a new level of excellence for an author already in ascendance.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleBoyle finds a deep vein of humor in their reactions to events extraordinary and mundane, sympathetic to their struggles but attuned to their foibles and shortcomings ... Dawn, Linda and Ramsay are all too human in their aspirations, disappointments and delusions, but some of the other Terranauts lack definition, flitting through the background but never truly engaging the reader as individuals. What works best in the book is the detail with which Boyle portrays the nitty-gritty of life inside an enclosed environment ... The Terranauts definitely has surprises in store for readers who stick with it, but like the project it describes, the narrative sometimes feels claustrophobic and extended past its optimum length.
PositiveThe Portland Press Herald[French] demonstrates again that she’s unusually skilled at interrogation scenes, keeping readers off-guard and thoroughly entertained ... By employing the first-person present tense, French is able to build a sense of gripping immediacy and emphasize how everything looks through Conway’s skeptical eyes ... The Trespasser seems talkier than some of the earlier books, taking more time than necessary to nail down every single plot point. But there’s a sense of genuine satisfaction in the way French concludes this book, neatly but with a dangerous edge. Sharp, earthy and astute in its presentation of criminal psychology, The Trespasser is another winner from French, an exciting page-turner with thematic heft, a novel of vengeance and reinvention that succeeds on multiple levels.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleFar-ranging, lucid, accessible and witty, Time Travel tackles its elusive subject from unusual angles but with fine-tuned focus ... Gleick doesn’t try to provide the last word on its subject, as if that goal were even possible. Instead he provides an engaging overview of the topic, hitting the high points, following a few interesting tangents, providing some answers while maintaining an air of ineffable mystery. Like the best time travel stories, this compact but far-reaching book will leave some readers slightly confused but many energized ... Knowledgeable, curious and humane, Gleick proves to be the perfect tour guide for this mind-bending intellectual expedition into the past, present and future.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesEverfair is a big, complex and engrossing saga, broad in ambition and deep in accomplishment ... Although it possesses elements of the fantastic, Everfair remains grounded in historical and psychological realism, making it a welcoming entry point for readers unfamiliar with steampunk ... ultimately a hopeful book, an exciting and original take on a too-little-known period of history.
John le Carre
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe Pigeon Tunnel is anything but a standard 'and then this happened to me' autobiography. Instead, the volume presents a series of artfully told anecdotes, grouped thematically rather than chronologically, from an eventful, accomplished and lengthy career ... The most interesting chapters are those in which le Carré offers a glimpse of the people and situations that fueled his fiction ... His personal revelations are mild and therefore perhaps disappointing, but fans of le Carré will be mostly content he chose to expose himself to the light of public scrutiny at all.
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldOne of the many interesting aspects of Monterey Bay is the way it occupies a tertiary kind of narrative space. Hatton’s version pays homage to Steinbeck without taking what he wrote about Ricketts at face value, even as her version of Cannery Row and its inhabitants does not adhere strictly to the historical record. It’s a delicate balancing act, and Hatton accomplishes it with panache ... More than mere pleasant reading for the beach, Monterey Bay gets to the heart of a remarkable place, a vanished time and a singular relationship.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleTranspiring over a single night and focused so tightly on such an eccentric protagonist, Night of the Animals sometimes feels in danger of becoming claustrophobic, repetitive in both its external action and internal philosophizing. But just when Cuthbert’s obsessive fretting threatens to overwhelm the novel’s narrative flow, Broun wisely introduces other point-of-view characters to widen the story’s scope ... Readers of Night of the Animals will likely be reminded of Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick and, perhaps, John Irving ... With a climax both moving and exhilarating, Night of the Animals is an unpredictable, inventive, futuristic gloss on Noah’s ark.
Ben H. Winters
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle[Winters builds] a vividly detailed alternate world that seems disturbingly plausible and exploring it through the eyes of a wounded truth seeker on the trail of long-delayed redemption ... Underground Airlines proves to be more than just a clever mashup of popular genres. By making the issue of slavery explicit, the novel demands to be read with one eye to how racism operates in our baseline reality ... Disturbing, absorbing and accomplished, Underground Airlines looks to be only the first leg of a trip that soars far above the ordinary.
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldFor some readers, this strong note of unreality may be tonally jarring, as if the members of CSI: Cyber had to track down a suspect who can time-travel. But both the mundane and the magical have always been part of the King multiverse. Maybe there is no good reason to keep them apart here, despite the potential grumblings of hard-boiled crime fiction purists. In any case,once the plot of End of Watch gets up and running, most readers will be flexible enough in their suspension of disbelief to enjoy the creepy twists, clever callbacks and poignant revelations. The wintery, blood-soaked climax of the novel provides a fitting resolution not only to the action at hand but to the trilogy as a whole.
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldHill knows that many readers will have other post-apocalyptic novels in mind as they follow Harper’s journey, chief among them The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. He doesn’t let those inevitable associations hinder him, though. He acknowledges his literal and literary forebears, cheerfully sprinkling the text with references to the Stephen King multiverse ... Although Hill employs a wide narrative canvas, he keeps his focus tight, concentrating on a handful of vivid characters operating mostly within the limited geographic area of the New Hampshire Seacoast ... Although nearly 800 pages, The Fireman never feels like a slog. Hill definitely knows how to ratchet up the suspense, even if he sometimes relies too heavily on 'had they but known!' chapter endings.
Claire Vaye Watkins
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleWatkins writes vividly and hypnotically about what happens to landscapes, bodies and minds when deprived of sustaining liquid. The novel may remind some readers of Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife in its timeliness, but Watkins’ objectives are different, not tied to realistic physics and the conventions of the science fiction thriller. Her novel is less a cautionary tale than an autopsy of a dream gone bad ... Watkins never loses sight of Ray and Luz’s tender humanity, rendering their predicament with an abundance of empathy, insight and wit, all of which is what makes Gold Fame Citrus a winner.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe stories in Get in Trouble also address very adult concerns. 'The Lesson' follows a married couple to a mysterious island, where they are stranded while their unborn child’s surrogate mother faces the threat of an extremely premature delivery. Based on Link’s own experience with the birth of her now 5-year-old daughter, the story packs an emotional wallop ... When it comes to literary magic, Link is the real deal: clever, surprising, affecting, fluid and funny. She is a rarity, a writer without a track record as a novelist able to command a high-profile collection of her short fiction. It’s tempting to wish that she would write at novel length, but perhaps that crosses the line into ingratitude.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleAs for Patience herself, the reasons behind her self-doubt and emotional confusion are gradually revealed with clarity and compassion. Clowes can be harsh and sometimes downright cruel to his characters, but he treats her with a tenderness that may be unprecedented in his comics work ... a big, bold work taken to completion in one glorious shot. It finds Clowes at the height of his powers, employing all the mind-bending talent he can muster.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleWhether one has encountered The Bone Clocks or not, the chilly pleasures of Slade House are abundant, perfect for experiencing during dropping temperatures and shorter days...As the Mitchellverse grows ever more expansive and connected, this short but powerful novel hints at still more marvels to come.