Michael SchaubMichael Schaub is a writer and book critic. He is a staff writer at The Millions and the co-host of The Book Report talk show. His work has appeared in NPR Books, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Portland Mercury and The Austin Chronicle, among other publications. A native of Texas, he now lives in Portland, Oregon. He can be found on Twitter @michaelschaub
RaveThe Texas ObserverA fascinating structure ... pays off beautifully — Hall paints a portrait of Oppenheimer through refraction, resulting in a novel that captures his life fully, but indirectly ... a dizzying, kaleidoscopic marvel of a book, and a beautiful reflection on the impossibility of creating a truly accurate narrative of any person’s life.
MixedNPRIt\'s an interesting book—and parts of it are convincing—but it doesn\'t go quite deep enough into exploring what we\'ve become as a country ... The solutions to the \'hate\' that Sasse offers are sound, if not revolutionary ... The most striking thing about Them is that it doesn\'t read at all like a campaign book, and that\'s a good thing. There\'s no soft-focus autobiography, no humble-bragging about his accomplishments in the Senate. Sasse is an excellent writer, unpretentious, thoughtful, and at times, quite funny ... It\'s not a perfect book, and the reader might wish that Sasse had expanded a little more on some of his central ideas and proposed solutions ... even if you disagree with some or all of what Sasse writes, it\'s an interesting book and his arguments are worth reading—as are his warnings about what our country might become.
RaveStarTribuneRemarkable, one of the best books by a musician to come around in quite a while ... There’s not an essay in My Own Devices that’s less than fascinating ... Dessa is a rock star of a writer ... funny, heartbreaking and brilliantly written, and very possibly the best memoir by a musician since Patti Smith’s Just Kids.
RaveNPRThe end of the summer is bad news for students and teachers...but it\'s good news for football fans, who have had to endure seven long, gridiron-free months. That wasn\'t always the case, though. For three years in the mid-1980s, sports fans could enjoy football in the Spring, thanks to the United States Football League ... The idea was a great one. But thanks in part to an egotistical New York real estate developer (you get three guesses), the league died in 1985. Football for a Buck tells the league\'s story in all its doomed glory ... Pearlman proves to be the perfect person to write its history. He approaches the USFL with both the critical eye of a sportswriter and the unbridled enthusiasm of a fan. He\'s also quite funny ... Above all, Pearlman is a master storyteller — he draws the reader in with his vivid descriptions of the league\'s wild games and wilder players. He\'s clearly done his homework ... Football for a Buck is a hilarious, engrossing roller coaster of a book.
RaveNPR\"[There Will Be No Miracles Here is] a stunningly original literary memoir from a young man who\'s just as good a writer as he is an entrepreneur ... And while the book isn\'t exactly cynical, it\'s refreshingly lacking in all things optimistic and inspirational. Gerald writes openly about his struggles with faith in his family and in anything divine. To be sure, Gerald does have epiphanies, but he looks at them with a healthy skepticism ... Gerald would probably roll his eyes at the phrasing, but his memoir is a shining and sincere miracle of a book.\
RaveNPR...has America lived up to the ideas of the founders of this country, many of whom failed to heed their own words in the first place? That\'s the question that forms the basis of Lepore\'s magnificent book ... She has chosen to look at America through the lens of the lens of the promises America has made to itself, and whether we\'ve kept them ... Lepore is scrupulously fair, writing about the country with neither easy cynicism or unearned sunniness, but her writing is often at its best when she betrays anger and disappointment in our country\'s past ... crucially, she often turns her sights on names that don\'t often appear in school textbooks ... Jill Lepore is an extraordinarily gifted writer, and These Truths is nothing short of a masterpiece of American history.
RaveNPR\"The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is brilliantly structured, with multiple characters narrating the events of the novel. The main voices are Edie\'s and Mae\'s; Edie\'s chapters are written in the present tense, set during the girls\' stay in New York, while Mae recounts the events from the future, looking back at their lives with the gift of retrospection. It\'s an unusual technique that Apekina uses to stunning effect, creating a kind of narrative tension that propels the novel forward ... The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish resembles a Southern Gothic novel — but with a contemporary twist. There\'s nothing derivative about it, though. The structure, characters and storyline are all refreshingly original, and the writing is nothing short of gorgeous. It\'s a stunningly accomplished book, and Apekina isn\'t afraid to grab her readers by the hand and take them to some very dark and very beautiful places.\
RaveNPRMatthew Cutter\'s entertaining new biography of \'Uncle Bob,\' Closer You Are, does an excellent job telling the story of the all-American-boy-turned-alternative-rock-god who\'s much more complex than his brash, boozy stage persona would indicate ... one of the strongest points of Cutter\'s book is his smart analysis of Pollard\'s music and the influence it\'s had on modern rock ... Guided by Voices fans, and anyone with an abiding interest in indie rock, will appreciate Cutter\'s deep dives into the history of each of the band\'s albums: He\'s combed through liner notes, fanzines and interviews with a surgical focus, preserving a lot of stories that might have been lost to history. But Closer You Are never gets bogged down with inside-baseball trivia; Cutter is a natural storyteller who doesn\'t lose sight of the overarching story of the band from Dayton ... It\'s clear that Cutter admires Pollard, but his book isn\'t a hagiography ... It\'s...an inspiring look at a dreamer who never gave up on his art.
PositiveNPRIt\'s a serviceable look at the life of the senator from Massachusetts, written by an author who doesn\'t disguise her love for the Democrat widely believed to be considering a presidential run ... Felix does an excellent job detailing Warren\'s work as an adviser to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, and as a co-author of two academic books on bankruptcy and debt—it\'s an esoteric subject that Felix explains quite well. Felix also ably describes Warren\'s rise to fame, which coincided with her role as architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ... There\'s nothing in the biography that really resembles criticism of the senator or her politics. That said, Felix does make some intelligent observations about the cultural perception and media coverage of Warren ... it\'s a flattering portrait of the senator who many see as a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president. Still, it\'s a little better than it has to be: Felix is an excellent writer, and her book is, at its best, quite interesting.
RaveNPRHow Are You Going to Save Yourself asks questions about race and sex, about families and about what happens to us when communications break down. It\'s a shockingly powerful debut collection from a writer whose talent seems almost limitless ... Holmes addresses the difficulties inherent in all kinds of relationships ... Holmes writes with a brutal honesty in every story, posing questions many would rather leave unasked ... It\'s hard to overstate what an incredible writer Holmes is. He has a real gift for phrasing ... a debut book that reads like the work of a writer with decades of experience. It\'s an unflinching look at themes that not too many authors are eager to tackle, and a book that asks important questions and challenges the reader to answer them honestly, as uncomfortable as those answers might be.
RaveNPRMarkley\'s debut is a sprawling, beautiful novel that explores the aftermath of the Great Recession ... Markley intersperses the stories of the four Ohioans with flashbacks to high school, and his portrayals are horrifyingly accurate. He does a perfect job examining the casual cruelties teenagers inflict on one another ... There\'s a lot going on in Ohio — a sprawling cast of main and supporting characters, and a series of interconnected events that doesn\'t come together until the book\'s shocking conclusion. But Markley handles it beautifully; the novel is intricately constructed, with gorgeous, fiery writing that pulls the reader in and never lets go ... Written with a real love for its characters, Ohio isn\'t just a remarkable debut novel, it\'s a wild, angry and devastating masterpiece of a book.
RaveNPRLing Ma\'s shocking and ferocious novel, Severance, is a play on the \'Why I left New York\' theme, but it\'s one you\'ll actually want to read ... a fierce debut from a writer with seemingly boundless imagination ... Severance goes back and forth in time, contrasting Candace\'s tedious office job with her travels across post-apocalyptic America. It\'s a technique Ma uses to great effect — it\'s jarring in a great way, making the horror of her new circumstances all the more intense ... while Severance works beautifully as a horror novel, there\'s much more to it than that. It\'s a wicked satire of consumerism and work culture ... Severance is the kind of satire that induces winces rather than laughs, but that doesn\'t make it any less entertaining ... [a] a stunning, audacious book with a fresh take.
RaveNPRAmerican Prison is both the remarkable story of a journalist who spent four months working as a corrections officer, and a horrifying exposé of how prisoners were treated by a corporation that profited from them ... Bauer\'s insights into what some call the \'prison-industrial complex\' are fascinating, and the history he provides offers crucial context into his time working at a CCA facility. It\'s Bauer\'s investigative chops, though, that make American Prison so essential ... The stories he tells are deeply sad and consistently infuriating ... American Prison is an enraging, necessary look at the private prison system, and a convincing clarion call for prison reform.
Beatriz Bracher, Trans. by Adam Morris
PositiveNPRGustavo, the...narrator of Beatriz Bracher\'s I Didn\'t Talk, wastes no time addressing the story that changed, and almost ruined, his life ... he was arrested with his best friend and brother-in-law...(as) the two had links to left-wing anti-government groups; for this, they were confined to jail and tortured...the torture cost Gustavo two teeth and the hearing in his right ear. Armando fared worse; he was eventually shot to death by soldiers. The physical torture was temporary, but the emotional torture has never ended for Gustavo ... The structure perfectly mimics the train of thought of a man caught in an endless cycle of guilt and self-doubt, and who still bears the scars of torture, both physical and otherwise ... The pacing of the novel is similarly effective ... I Didn\'t Talk isn\'t just about one emotionally bruised man; it\'s about the lasting effects of violence, and the way cruelty causes its victims to torture themselves.
Crystal Hana Kim
MixedNewsday\"If You Leave Me is an uneven novel, but one that does a good job exploring the ravages of war, poverty and mental illness ... Kim’s novel switches points of view among the main and supporting characters; it’s a technique that can be effective in fiction but doesn’t work here — all the characters narrate with the same voice, and the only one who feels fully fleshed out is Haemi ... It’s difficult to pull off a novel with a love triangle at its center; it’s well-worn territory, and to keep readers interested, authors have to bring something new to the table. Kim doesn’t quite do that ... Still, Kim is a gifted storyteller, even if the story she’s telling doesn’t break new ground — she has a great instinct for pacing, and her dialogue mostly rings true to life. If You Leave Me isn’t perfect by any means, but nevertheless, there’s much to admire in it. It’s a promising, if flawed, debut from a clearly gifted author.\
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneSchumacher’s book is an exhaustive look not just at the 1968 election, but at the social changes that brought the country to that particular boiling point. It’s divided into four large sections, a structure that’s well suited for a topic with so many layers and personalities ... he does a good job of contrasting Humphrey’s backslapping bonhomie with McCarthy’s academic coolness ... Schumacher’s handling of Kennedy’s assassination is sensitive and dramatic, and indeed, so is his writing throughout the book — he keeps the reader turning the pages, even though we know what the outcome is ... It’s difficult to imagine a more compelling and comprehensive look at the 1968 election.
RaveNPR\"In his previous six books, Rich has proved he has a boundless imagination and a sharp sense of humor, and Hits and Misses continues that streak—it\'s a bizarre and hilarious collection from one of the funniest writers in America ... Rich can be edgy, but his comedy doesn\'t require victims; you get the feeling he actually likes his characters, and doesn\'t see them as just ends to a punchline ... He\'s endlessly clever, but not impressed by his own wit; gentle, but not afraid to test boundaries. It\'s a kind of humor that recalls early 20th-century writers like James Thurber and E.B. White, but Rich\'s comic genius is really all his own. He spent years being regarded as a kind of precocious wunderkind, but with this book, Rich has come into his own as one of the most talented writers of comedic fiction working today.\
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesShe allows us to feel for her characters but never asks us to pity them. It’s a trait she has in common with Denis Johnson, who also wrote about addiction without condescending to his characters (and who Patterson name-checks, to surprising effect, in \'Confetti\') ... Patterson’s accomplished prose is all the more impressive considering her subject matter—she writes about not only addiction but about broken families, unhappy childhoods and sex with a brutal, but never mean-spirited, honesty. She’s particularly gifted at writing about the mechanics of regret ... this sense of missed connections is what makes The Secret Habit of Sorrow such a remarkable collection. Patterson’s stories seldom end neatly; her characters are too real, too stubbornly human to have their problems neatly wrapped up. They’re solitary, even when they’re with others, and they’re adrift even when they seem put together. That kind of desolation can be difficult to put in writing—it’s not easy to read, and it can’t be easy to write. Patterson conveys the desperation of her characters by using spare prose; every sentence has been whittled down to leave only the necessary words.
MixedNPRThe Death of Truth is a slim volume that\'s equally intriguing and frustrating, an uneven effort from a writer who is, nonetheless, always interesting to read ... It\'s intriguing, if not entirely convincing. Deceit in politics and fiery reactionary rhetoric predate postmodernism, and it\'s fair to say that the majority of those showing up at Trump\'s rallies (or the majority of people in general) don\'t make it a habit to read the works of philosopher Jacques Derrida. To be fair, Kakutani acknowledges this, but the connection she draws between postmodernism and Trumpism still seems too tenuous to be of much use. Kakutani finds herself on stronger footing when she discusses the linguistics behind Trump\'s speeches and tweets ... Kakutani is clearly sharp, and her arguments can be convincing. But nothing in the book breaks new ground.
RaveNPRFor the Hall family, the country house called Hamdean was supposed to be a retreat, a suite of well-appointed rooms where they could escape their busy London lives ... However, shortly after thier move, Catherine is questioned by local authorities about the body of a young woman who has either fallen or jumped to her death from the roof of Hamdean ... The Shades, follows the Halls and their teenage son, Rowan, as they try to put their lives back together after a sudden and shocking loss ... The Shades functions both as a thriller and a deep psychological examination of the life of a broken family. It\'s a slim novel, and Citkowitz doesn\'t waste a word; it\'s a book that\'s both intricately plotted and perfectly paced. The circumstances of the family\'s growing estrangement from one another are revealed piecemeal ... It\'s an absorbing book by an author who knows how to create organic suspense without ever overplaying her hand
RaveNPR\"The Last Cruise plays out a lot like a \'50s disaster movie, and that\'s a good thing. It\'s a tremendously entertaining novel that never asks readers to turn their brains off—there\'s plenty of slow-burn suspense, but it doesn\'t come at the expense of unrealistic characters, which is a trade-off many authors are too willing to take ... If there\'s one fault in The Last Cruise, it\'s the novel\'s ending, which is perhaps a bit too dramatic—it requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief ... But on the other hand, the drama is consistent with the \'50s-movie feel of the novel, and it seems churlish to nitpick when the overall effect is so startling and so much fun. The Last Cruise is a captivating voyage—it\'s a great summer read, sure, but it\'s well worth taking the ride no matter the time of year.\
RaveThe Star TribuneBranch does a beautiful job chronicling a family as it navigates old traditions in a new, fast-paced century. He’s an unobtrusive writer, letting the family members speak for themselves, and refraining from making any judgments or trying to shoehorn the family into some larger narrative. The Last Cowboys is an excellent, compassionate book that deftly captures the cowboy ethos: \'Life could turn in a moment. You just held on and tried to find the rhythm in it.\'
RaveNPR...[a] fascinating debut ... In Chosen Country, Pogue does an exceptional job of explaining how one of the most bizarre and divisive events in recent U.S. history came to pass ... His book is remarkably evenhanded, but he doesn\'t shy away from exploring his own history and emotional response to the events in Oregon ... And while at times he\'s certainly sympathetic to the attitudes of the occupiers, he doesn\'t treat them with kid gloves ... Pogue turns out to be uniquely qualified to explain how discontent in the West led to a series of breakdowns that have broken our country, and are far from over.
Fatima Farheen Mirza
RaveNPRMirza\'s book gets to a universal truth: To be part of a family is to learn how to be more than one person, how to remain an individual while fulfilling the duties we have to those who love us, who made us ... A Place for Us is a stunning novel about love, compassion, cruelty and forgiveness—the very things that make families what they are ... The structure of A Place for Us is unconventional; the novel goes back and forth in time, switching points of view. This isn\'t the easiest thing to pull off, but Mirza executes it perfectly, creating a constant tension in the narrative that keeps readers turning the pages, but is never cheap or exploitative. And her writing is gorgeous, unadorned but beautiful ... Mirza, 27, writes with more grace and self-confidence than many authors who have been publishing before she was born, and it\'s going to be fascinating to see what she does next.
RaveNPRIt\'s...wide-ranging and compulsively readable ... clear and informative; he\'s able to explain difficult concepts without patronizing the reader ... And his decision to focus his book on the people behind energy is a good one. He doesn\'t limit himself to obvious names ... Refreshingly, Rhodes refuses to be cynical about the future of energy and its effects on climate change ... he urges action without succumbing to fatalism ... Energy is an excellent book that manages to be both entertaining and informative, and it\'s likely to appeal to both science fans and those of us who only passed physics by the skin of our teeth.
RaveNPRA Shout in the Ruins is intricately plotted, but not strained or gimmicky. Powers uses suspense ably; even when the reader realizes something awful is about to happen, it\'s difficult to stop turning the pages ... His use of language in A Shout in the Ruins — inspired, perhaps, by William Faulkner — is nothing short of brilliant, and he connects with his characters in a very real way; he explores their psyches with an uncommon sensitivity ... a singular triumph of a book.
RaveNPR\"There\'s very little sunlight, literally and metaphorically, in Kushner\'s brilliant and devastating The Mars Room ... The Mars Room is a necessarily claustrophobic book, but that\'s not at all a bad thing. Kushner does a masterful job evoking the isolation and hopelessness intrinsic to a life behind bars; she never resorts to cliché or pathos, but still manages to convey the emotional torture to which prisoners are subjected on an hourly basis ... Kushner doesn\'t make a false move in her third novel; she writes with an intelligence and a ferocity that sets her apart from most others in her cohort. She\'s a remarkably original and compassionate author, and The Mars Room is a heartbreaking, true and nearly flawless novel.\
RaveNPR\"Wright does an excellent job illustrating what makes Texas the place it is ... It doesn\'t fit neatly into any one category; it\'s essentially an apologia with elements of criticism and memoir. Wright is aware of Texas\' spotty reputation among outsiders, and he deftly acknowledges that while its critics make good points, there\'s more to Texas than meets the eye ... Wright is one of the most talented journalists Texas has ever produced, and God Save Texas is him at his best. It\'s a thoughtful, beautifully written book...Wright\'s book is essential reading not just for Texans, but for anyone who wants to understand how one state changed the trajectory of the country, for better and for worse.\
Åsne Seierstad, Trans. by Seán Kinsella
RaveNPRSeierstad structures the book perfectly, with sections examining the sisters\' radicalization intertwined with their father\'s desperate bid to recover them ... She paints a fascinating and even-handed picture of Ayan and Leila\'s growing fundamentalism, but she doesn\'t claim to know what exactly caused their conversion ... She also does a deft job of capturing the emotions of the principals in the story — not just the sisters, but also Sadiq, whose life is essentially destroyed by his daughters\' journey to ISIS ... Two Sisters is nearly impossible to stop reading. She\'s a master at pacing, and writes with an admirable clarity that manages to be empathetic without ever descending into mawkishness. And her translator, Seán Kinsella, does a wonderful job making the book accessible to English-language readers ... Two Sisters is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and, finally, urgently necessary book.
MixedNPR\"Say this for Wood: He practices what he preaches. His latest novel, Upstate, is anything but hysterical and gaudy; it\'s a book that\'s quiet to a fault. It\'s a book that doesn\'t try to do too much; indeed, it doesn\'t really try to do anything at all. That\'s not to say it\'s bad — it\'s mannered and inoffensive and occasionally pretty ... To be clear, Wood is a fine writer, and there are more than a few admirable passages in Upstate ... But the novel is bogged down with navel-gazing and some weird narrative choices ... It\'s frustrating, because it\'s obvious Wood has more tools than the ones he displays in Upstate. His criticism, at its best, is passionate and dynamic; he\'s a powerful writer who excels at making a case. But none of that passion is on display in this novel — it\'s the literary equivalent of a soft rock ballad, occasionally pleasant but stubbornly averse to risk-taking.\
RaveNPRGreen Sun is a stunning book, and it's more than worth the wait ... Green Sun succeeds on so many levels, it's hard to keep count. As a crime novel, it's paced beautifully; Anderson lets the suspense build naturally, never resorting to cheap narrative tricks at the expense of the plot. His characters are realistic — there are no flawless heroes or evil villains; Anderson has no use for lazy archetypes of any kind. He also displays a canny understanding of psychology ... Hanson is a fascinating and memorable character, but the real star of Green Sun is Anderson's writing. He never succumbs to hard-boiled clichés or tough-guy posturing; he's a compassionate writer who never wastes a single word.
RaveNPR...a fascinating look at the White House aides who turned Johnson's sprawling visions into a reality that forever changed the United States ... It would be easy for a book like Building the Great Society to turn into a jumble of names, numbers and acronyms, but that's a trap Zeitz deftly avoids. To be sure, he's a policy wonk, but he's also an engaging author — there's a lot of information in the book, but it never descends into inside-baseball nerdery ... Building the Great Society is endlessly absorbing, and astoundingly well-researched — all good historians do their homework, but Zeitz goes above and beyond. It's a more than worthwhile addition to the canon of books about Johnson.
RaveNPR\"Her new book is lively, intelligent and frequently hilarious, and proves that she\'s one of the brightest minds in English literature today ... Reading Feel Free is a lot like hanging out with a friend who\'s just as at home in a museum as she is binge-watching a sitcom. She engages artists on their own terms; she\'s opinionated, but not judgmental. And she manages to breathe new life into well-worn topics ... There\'s not an essay in Feel Free that\'s less than engrossing. Sure, Smith is extremely intelligent, but smart authors are a dime a dozen: More importantly, she\'s an elegant writer, original, big-hearted and enthusiastic.\
Stefan Merrill Block
RaveNewsdayThe title character of Oliver Loving, the arresting third novel from Texas-raised, Brooklyn-based author Stefan Merrill Block, shares a name with the famed cattleman but not much else. He’s a shy, sweet teenage boy whose life is ended — almost — by a round from a school shooter’s gun ... Oliver Loving follows the boy’s family as they try to move on with their lives while Oliver lies unconscious in a rehabilitation facility ... The plot of Oliver Loving could easily lend itself to sentimentality, but Block never falls into that trap. There’s no made-for-TV movie mawkishness, although Block proves himself a master of writing about complex emotions, employing moving but realistic dialogue... Block is an immensely talented writer, and Oliver Loving is a miracle of a book, a deeply generous and compassionate novel... It’s a book that asks us to think, to care, to question what it means to be alive, or dead, or something in between.
RaveNPR...enchanting ... Like his previous book, the short story collection Hall of Small Mammals, it's richly imaginative, quirky but not twee, and the work of an author who's determined to find the surreal behind the ordinary ... There's a lot going on in The Afterlives, but that's not a bad thing — Pierce's pacing is excellent, and the reader never feels overwhelmed by the increasingly bizarre events in the novel ... Pierce also has a gift for memorable and realistic characters ... The Afterlives is an admirably straight-faced novel, and Pierce writes as if he's allergic to the snide, the ironic and the pseudo-intellectual. It's a deeply generous, compassionate book that asks its readers to open their hearts and treat one another with understanding, even as the world grows more complicated, and more unknowable, every day.
RaveNPRIt's easy to speculate that Johnson saw the world as something like a jail, and all of us, lucky and troubled, contrite and unrepentant, as wayward angels trapped inside. We'll never know if that's what he meant, of course; we're just left with this miraculous book, these perfect stories, the last words from one of the world's greatest writers. As one of his characters says, ‘The Past just left. Its remnants, I claim, are mostly fiction.’
RaveNPRIt's a brutal novel that gets darker and darker, and it's as breathtakingly beautiful as it is bleak … Mukherjee tackles some notoriously difficult themes perfectly: The characters in A State of Freedom all want better lives, and — to say the least — they're seldom rewarded. It's not exactly a novel that warns readers against striving; rather, it's one that urges us to be careful what we wish for, and to always be prepared for disappointment. Mukherjee also brilliantly details the brutality inherent in the class system, and the violence and despair that are its inevitable results … A State of Freedom is a marvel of a book, shocking and beautiful.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleIt's difficult for any writer to pull off rotating viewpoints, but Smith does it perfectly, without a hint of clumsiness or tentativeness...It's especially hard considering how disparate the characters are. Astrid can't wait to grow up; Michael can't handle being an adult. Magnus is as consumed with his guilt as Eve is with her self-doubt. Smith captures the speech and thoughts of each character with a real, compassionate kind of virtuosity … It pays to be suspicious of writers who tie things up too neatly, who end novels a little too perfectly. But Smith doesn't have this problem – the last sentence of the book manages to be enlightening, confusing and almost destructive in its simple power.
RaveNPRWhile no one who didn't serve in Vietnam can really grasp what life in that time, that place, was like, Marlantes comes closer than any American writer ever has to capturing the unrelenting terror and enormity of one of the saddest chapters in recent world history … There's never been a Vietnam War novel as stark, powerful and brutal as Matterhorn — Marlantes manages to exceed the efforts of his closest literary antecedents...He manages to write with a dark and chilling beauty, even as he chronicles some of the most unspeakable events his readers are likely to encounter. It's the rare kind of masterpiece that enriches not just American literature but American history as well.
RaveNPRAs a horror and suspense novel, Broken Monsters is flawless — I haven't read a scarier, more tense book in years. But Beukes brings so much more to the table: There's a huge amount of bitter social satire here … Broken Monsters is very much a novel of the present. The city of Detroit is a major, tragic character in the novel — ‘Some people have ghost towns, we have a whole ghost city,’ as one local artist puts it … It's hard to overstate how ambitious Broken Monsters is, maybe because Beukes somehow manages to make it look easy. Her prose is unhindered, exuberant and something like addictive.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...a dizzying, kaleidoscopic thriller that refuses to let readers look away from the dark side of Southern California ... It’s difficult to discuss how the lives of the characters in Wonder Valley come together without giving away the revelations that make the novel nearly impossible to put down. That’s not to say the book is dependent on twists; while Pochoda takes her readers in unexpected directions, it’s the memorable characters and beautiful prose that make the novel so successful ... Fairly or not, literary thrillers live or die by their endings, and the last pages of Wonder Valley are unexpected and pitch-perfect — there’s no unearned redemption, but also no needlessly dark nihilism. Pochoda has a real gift for pacing, and she’s a remarkably psychologically astute writer; it’s hard not to feel at least some kind of sympathy for all the characters, even the ones capable of monstrous acts of violence and selfishness.
PanNPRErdrich's gift for innovation has paid off in the past, but her latest novel, Future Home of the Living God, is an overreaching, frequently bizarre book that never really comes close to getting off the ground ...Cedar's freedom doesn't last long, and the rest of Future Home of the Living God tells the story of her desperate attempts to escape the hospital in which she's imprisoned ...the novel has the structure of a successful thriller ...writing is oddly flat, and occasionally inexplicable ... Too much of the novel reads like stoned dorm room philosophizing; Erdrich's writing can be pretty, but it's too often unclear what exactly she's talking about ...a deeply frustrating novel, all the more so because Erdrich is capable of much better than this.
Gordon S. Wood
RaveNPRHe isn't afraid to critique the men; Friends Divided is far from a hagiography. Wood calls attention to Jefferson's misogyny and racism — hardly unusual for a man of his time, but still notable for a man who is routinely lionized in American society ... One of the most fascinating parts of Friends Divided is Wood's account of the two presidents' reconciliation ... Friends Divided is an engaging book that's sure to appeal to anyone with an abiding interest in Revolution-era America and the leaders who shaped the country. Beautifully written and with real insight into Jefferson and Adams, it's a worthy addition to the canon, and yet another compelling book from Wood.
RaveNPRVampires in the Lemon Grove is one of the most innovative, inspired short-story collections in the past decade. The premises of Russell's stories are astonishingly imaginative, but her prose is so beautiful and assured, it's easy for the reader to suspend his disbelief … It's a testament to Russell's emotional maturity and originality that she's able not only to pull these stories off, but to do so with such seemingly effortless beauty … Vampires in the Lemon Grove is flawless and magnificent, and there's absolutely no living author quite like Karen Russell.
Richard Lloyd Parry
RaveNPRIt's a wrenching chronicle of a disaster that, six years later, still seems incomprehensible ... Any writer could compile a laundry list of the horrors that come in the wake of a disaster; Parry's book is not that. He takes his readers deep into Tohoku, 'a remote, marginal, faintly melancholy place, the symbol of a rural tradition that, for city dwellers, is no more than a folk memory' ... Parry writes about the survivors with sensitivity and a rare kind of empathy; he resists the urge to distance himself from the pain in an attempt at emotional self-preservation. The result is a book that's brutally honest, and at times difficult to read ... Ghosts of the Tsunami is a brilliant chronicle of one of the modern world's worst disasters, but it's also a necessary act of witness. The stories Parry tells are wrenching, and he refuses to mitigate the enormity of the tsunami with false optimism or saccharine feel-good anecdotes. Above all, it's a beautiful meditation on grief.
RaveNPRSkippy Dies is a deeply funny book. Murray's sense of humor is gleefully absurd, but indisputably intelligent; there's not a single cheap laugh in these pages. And while he mines a good deal of hilarious material from Skippy's infatuation and Ruprecht's social obliviousness, Murray is at his funniest when his teeth are bared … Reading Skippy Dies is a lot like reading a Saki story as interpreted by Neil Jordan (who is scheduled to write and direct the film adaptation of this novel) — which is to say, it's deeply funny, deeply weird and unlike anything you've ever encountered before.
RaveNPRSmile is a uniquely difficult book to discuss; its power depends upon Doyle's ability to shock the reader with an escalating series of revelations. These culminate in a twist ending that's almost physically painful to read — the reader is forced to reconsider every sentence that's come before; the effect is dizzying and distressing. Too often, plot twists in novels are unearned, the result of writers who have gotten in over their heads and grasped at whatever deus ex machina came to their minds first. This is not the case with Smile — Doyle isn't in love with his own cleverness; the novel ends where it does because it has to … Smile is a novel that's as original as it is brutal, and as painful as it is necessary.
RaveNPRThe Power is a dizzy, unsettling book that doesn't let readers turn away from the horrors at its core ... Novels based on premises like the one at the core of The Power can quickly become little more than thought experiments, but Alderman dodges this trap deftly — her writing is beautiful, and her intelligence seems almost limitless. She also has a pitch-dark sense of humor that she wields perfectly — one section recreates an Internet forum with eerie accuracy, down to random anti-vaccine activists popping in. It ends with a devastating last paragraph that's hilarious, biting and perfect. But although the last words are a quasi-joke, it doesn't at all lessen the impact of what came before. The Power is a captivating novel that asks us to consider a dystopia that already exists, and has for centuries.
RaveNPR…[a] stunning new biography of the champ … Eig recounts the champ's major bouts in dizzying detail. Even readers who don't care for boxing will be drawn in by his descriptions of the fights, ‘the cigarette and cigar smoke draping the air, the shouts, the moans, the voices screaming for holy blood’ … Ali's life was more complex than most other sports figures, and Eig's brilliant, exhaustive book is the biography the champ deserves: a beautiful portrait of a man whose name will never be forgotten, who carried a torch for equality and justice, and lit a fire that will never go out.
RaveNPR...[a] wonderful debut short story collection ... Some are straightforward; some are gleefully surreal. And every one of them is brash, daring and defiantly original ... There's no reason that a story featuring telepathic zoo animals should work, but McBride pulls it off; in his hands, the fantastical tale turns both heartbreaking and triumphant. That's an accurate way to describe McBride's entire collection. The stories in Five-Carat Soul vary widely in style and setting, but they're all linked by the author's compassionate sensibilities. The characters in this book — human and otherwise — feel real and beautifully drawn, and their stories are bound to stay with readers for a very long time.
RaveNPRHis argument might not sit well with those who hold to the story's literal truth, but it's an important observation about how deeply rooted misogyny is, and has been for centuries. Greenblatt's history of the story is engaging because of the twists and turns he takes. He writes about the Pre-Adamites, who believed that Adam and Eve existed but weren't actually the first humans. He meditates beautifully on the art that the myth has inspired...And he considers the influence of Paradise Lost, John Milton's epic poem about the Creation of Man ... The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is almost dizzying in its scope; Greenblatt draws from history, religion, art and science, and he writes about all of these fields with infectious enthusiasm. It's a strikingly intelligent book, but it's also accessible; he's a clear, unpretentious writer who can hardly hide his fascination with the subject.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesHandler’s new novel couldn’t be more unlike the books he wrote under his famous pseudonym. A Series of Unfortunate Events was marked by Handler’s winkingly ornate prose and neo-gothic whimsy; All the Dirty Parts is spare, stripped down and devoid of anything twee. It’s a fascinating, profane book that somehow succeeds on its own merits ... It’s an interesting experiment: The reader is left to connect the dots, to fill in the parts of the story that Cole has elided for not being sufficiently sexual. Handler drops just enough hints for us to do just that, and the portrait that results is quietly heartbreaking, though often hilarious ... It’s difficult to create a fully formed character with the strictures Handler has imposed on himself, narrative fragments from a sex-obsessed high school student. But Cole turns out to be a multifaceted character. It helps that Handler perfectly captures the staccato rhythm of teen-speak; none of the dialogue comes off as inauthentic at all ... Handler doesn’t condescend to his young characters, and he doesn’t offer any easy lessons. All the Dirty Parts is a shockingly original novel...Parents of teenagers might be wary of the language and content, but it deserves to be read widely, and not just by adults — it’s one of the most original and realistic depictions of the sex lives of young people to come around in a long time.
RaveNPRThe two take an instant dislike to each other — Parrot unaffectionately refers to Olivier as ‘Lord Migraine,’ and Olivier calls his new acquaintance ‘dreadful’ and a ‘retching varlet.’ But they soon bond, sort of, over the difficulties and adjustments that come with their new lives in America … Carey wisely uses the first quarter of the book to detail the respective backgrounds of the duo; by the time they meet each other, the reader knows them both well. And although a culture-clash story between a fussy aristocrat and a tough, working-class journeyman lends itself to some obvious humor, Carey finds comedy in unexpected places.
RaveNPRMy Absolute Darling is a shocking and unsettling novel about child abuse — it can be difficult to read, but it's an excellent debut from the Utah-based author ... My Absolute Darling is, very obviously, difficult to read, particularly the scenes that detail Martin's abuse. But it's also nearly impossible to put down ... In Turtle, Tallent has created a memorable and original character. She's easy to feel sorry for, but impossible to pity — she's tough, but capable of tenderness when she lets her guard down. Tallent does a masterful job explaining why some abuse victims stay with the people who hurt them, especially when they've never known a life without abuse ... There's no shortage of things to admire in My Absolute Darling — it's a devastating and powerful debut from a writer who's almost certain to have a wonderful career ahead of him.
Orhan Pamuk, Trans. by Ekin Oklap
MixedNPRThe Red-Haired Woman doesn't approach the heights he has reached in those previous books, but at its best, it does reaffirm his reputation as a skilled writer ... With the exception of the book's final section, The Red-Haired Woman is often plodding and occasionally ponderous. Pamuk spends a lot of time explaining how well-digging works — he's clearly done his research — but it gets to be a bit much ... That's not to say The Red-Haired Woman doesn't have redeeming qualities. The last section of the book — the only one not written from Cep's point of view — is genuinely shocking, and it forces the reader to reconsider everything that came before. It's not quite enough to save the book, but it does serve as a fascinating coda ... The Red-Haired Woman is far from perfect: It's a minor work from a major author. Fans of the Nobel Prize winner may well find much to admire here; for those unfamiliar with his novels, it's inessential.
RaveNPRMitchell's new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, splits the thematic and stylistic differences between his previous two books, combining Cloud Atlas' fascination with history and the theme of the journey with Black Swan Green's more straightforward narrative structure and understated empathy … Jacob is an unusually compelling character, despite his straight-laced, sometimes humorless attitude. Mitchell allows the reader to experience the clerk's love for his fiancee, his obsession with Orito, and his attempts to reconcile both. It helps that the supporting characters are so well-drawn and fascinating, from the brilliant but hostile Doctor Marinus (Orito's mentor) to the gleefully venal cook Arie Grote, who speaks in an enchanting and hilarious thief’s cant. Mitchell lets his sense of humor shine through, to the greatest effect of his career so far.
MixedNPR...[an] urgent and explosive new novel ... Home Fire is essentially a retelling of Antigone, which works both for and against the novel. Shamsie moves the setting to the present time ably, and nothing about it seems forced. But it's hard to surprise readers when they know what's going to happen, and the novel hews a little too closely to the Sophocles play. The ending of Shamsie's novel departs from Antigone, thankfully, and it's heartbreaking and beyond explosive. The pacing in Home Fire is near perfect; it's a difficult book to put down, especially once the reader becomes invested in the characters. And thanks to Shamsie's detailed look at the members of the two families, that doesn't take long. The most impressive part of Home Fire, though, is Shamsie's writing, which is beautiful without being florid, and urgent without being rushed.
RaveNPRMantel masterfully portrays the childish Henry, mercurial Anne and enigmatic Jane, but the soul of the Wolf Hall books is Cromwell. His titles include ‘Secretary to the King’ and ‘Master of the Rolls,’ but he's essentially a fixer and consigliere for the fickle Henry. Mantel's portrayal is complex, nuanced and wholly original. While Cromwell sometimes comes across as a Tudor-era Tony Soprano, Bring Up the Bodies shows a more unsure side, a middle-aged man coming to terms with his mortality, still mourning the loss of his wife and daughters. The portrait is as delicate and keen as any other in recent historical fiction.
RaveNPR\"...raunchy, hilarious and unexpectedly sweet ... Perrotta is extraordinarily gifted at capturing the relationship between Eve and her son ... Mrs. Fletcher isn\'t the first book by Perrotta to mix dark humor with serious issues; he\'s done so before in novels like Election and Little Children. But his latest might just be his best — it\'s a stunning and audacious book, and Perrotta never lets his characters take the easy way out. Uncompromisingly obscene but somehow still kind-hearted, Mrs. Fletcher is one for the ages.\
RaveNPRIf there's any justice in the literary world — and occasionally there is — McClanahan will get the widespread recognition he's long deserved with The Sarah Book, his tragic and beautiful second novel. It's an unsparing primal scream of a book, and it convincingly makes the case that McClanahan is one of the best American writers of his generation ... loss is the main theme of the novel, and McClanahan explores the topic with an honesty so raw, it's likely to bring tears to your eyes more than once ... The Sarah Book is slim, and there are no wasted words in it. He's a musical writer, and the novel is full of passages that beg to be reread over and over again ... brave, triumphant and beautiful — it reads like a fever dream, and it feels like a miracle.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHis admirers have had to wait since the Clinton administration for his next book, but happily, it’s worth it. Who Is Rich? is funny, maddening and, despite the well-worn subject matter, defiantly original ... As a person, Rich is hard to like; as a narrator, he’s about as reliable as a 1987 Yugo GV with its original transmission. That’s a tough row to hoe for any writer, but Klam manages to make him compelling — he has moments of self-awareness, although he seldom takes them to their logical ends ... It’s a challenging novel, but Klam’s prose is so clean, so self-assured, that it feels a little like a miracle.
RaveNPRIf you grew up in the 1980s and resided anywhere on the nerd-geek spectrum, all it takes is the right Rush or Genesis song to bring you back to the video arcade...Those arcade games, and those fond memories, are the subject of Ernest Cline's unapologetically nerdy debut novel … Ready Player One is ridiculously fun and large-hearted, and you don't have to remember the Reagan administration to love it … I never thought I could be on the edge of my seat while reading about a session of the arcade game Joust, but the author's energetic, deeply felt narrative makes it almost impossible to stop turning the pages. Cline is that rare writer who can translate his own dorky enthusiasms into prose that's both hilarious and compassionate.
RaveNPRHis defiant quirkiness is tempered with a dark sobriety and a sense that the world we live in is often more surreal and savage than any satire could be. Tenth of December isn't just the author's most unexpected work yet; it's also his best … The standout of Tenth of December, though, is ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries,’ a story that's remarkable for its originality and unrelenting sadness...It's possibly Saunders' strangest short story to date, but it's also one of his most realistic, and that's what makes it so horrifying … Saunders is one of America's best writers of fiction, and that his stories are as weird, scary and devastating as America itself.
RaveNPR...[a] powerhouse debut ... one of the most unforgettable characters in recent American fiction ... It's hard to pull off a novel with an unreliable narrator, and they don't come much more unreliable than Stephen. But Habash manages to make his protagonist both charismatic and repelling, frequently on the same page, and the result is one of the most fascinating characters to come along in quite a while ... In the end, it's difficult not to root for Stephen, despite his impulsiveness and stubborn single-mindedness. And it's almost impossible not to admire Habash's starkly beautiful and moving novel. Stephen Florida is brash and audacious; it's not just one of the best novels of the year, it's one of the best sports books to come along in quite a while.
RaveNPR\"By turns funny, shocking and heartbreaking, it\'s one of his best books to date. And with a career as distinguished as Everett\'s, that\'s saying something ... So Much Blue is essentially three books in one. The sections covering the present day read like a remarkably honest work of domestic fiction, while the chapters set in Paris are more of a haunting love story. The parts of the book set in El Salvador, as the country\'s long civil war is breaking out, are more like a thriller than anything. The only things the three parts have in common is Kevin, and Everett\'s masterful writing ... a generous, thrilling book by a man who might well be America\'s most under-recognized literary master, and readers will be thinking about it long after the last page.\
PositiveNPRPhilipp Meyer's The Son isn't just one of the most exciting Texas novels in years, it's one of the most solid, unsparing pieces of American historical fiction to come out this century … The novel's structure — with chapters switching back and forth from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s and the 20th century — is unusual, but it's never confusing or jarring. And while a few of the plots take a while to develop, they come together in surprising and rewarding ways by the book's end.
RaveNPRWhen Megan goes missing, Rachel's world, already profoundly messy, shifts even farther off-center...Rachel finds herself unable to stay away, and winds up directly in the middle of the investigation, all while trying to deal with her growing addiction to alcohol and her frequent memory lapses … The novel is perfectly paced, from its arresting beginning to its twist ending; it's not an easy book to put down … What really makes The Girl on the Train such a gripping novel is Hawkins' remarkable understanding of the limits of human knowledge, and the degree to which memory and imagination can become confused.
RaveNPR... [a] breathtaking new novel, Isadora. It's a stunning meditation on art and grief by one of America's most exciting young writers ... The novel concludes with an ending so mind-bogglingly sad, it would have seemed unnecessary and unreal if it hadn't actually happened. But Gray handles it beautifully — she doesn't insulate her readers from the cruelties of grief, but she's never exploitative and she never uses cheap pathos ... Gray is a gutsy, utterly original writer, and this is the finest work she's done so far. Isadora is a masterful portrait of one of America's greatest artists, and it's also a beautiful reflection on what it means to be suffocated by grief, but not quite willing to give up.
RaveNPR...a creepy but beautiful debut book from an exceptionally talented young English author ... Johnson prefers to lead with the ominous and make it even darker. Not many writers can pull that off. She can. In some ways, Fen reads like a pastoral answer to the fiction of Angela Carter That's not to say it's derivative; it's not at all. But Johnson shares Carter's affinity for twisted stories that examine sexuality from the viewpoint of female desire, dispensing with the idea that the male gaze is the last word on anything sexual ... It's difficult to explain Fen; it reads like a book that doesn't want to be explained, only experienced. And thanks to Johnson's accomplished writing, dazzling imagination and unique point of view, it's one hell of an experience. Fen is a haunting book about a haunted place, and it's more than worth it to take the trip.
RaveNPRIt's a slim volume, and yes, it's illustrated, but it's full of knowledge, wit and optimism, and McCullough's characteristic erudition shines through on every page ... It's a wide-ranging collection, but it's not just a series of history lessons. McCullough teaches us about history, but also how to think about it, and why it matters ... His faith in the country is touching, and this book is a gift.
Pajtim Statovci, Trans. by David Hackston
PanNPRMy Cat Yugoslavia was published in its original Finnish in 2014, when Statovci was in his early twenties, and his age shows here. It's a brash and ambitious novel, but too often Statovci lets his ideas get the better of him — he definitely has something to say about abuse, prejudice and family dynamics, but it's lost in the sheer absurdity of the story. The book reads like two novels shoehorned into one, and neither one is fully realized ... That's not to say that Statovci is an untalented writer. He's clearly capable of constructing strong sentences, and it's undeniable that his imagination is boundless. It wouldn't be surprising if his next book succeeds where this one fails. But My Cat Yugoslavia, though clever in parts, is, unfortunately, too unpolished and immature to be considered anything more than a valiant attempt.
RaveNPRHe takes obvious enjoyment in sharing the culture of his home state; his excitement about each folk tale, each bit of history, shines through the narrative. And it's contagious: It's hard not to get swept up by his enthusiastic prose, his ebullient descriptions of the places and people in the Bluegrass State. It's a relentlessly fun novel, the literary equivalent of a country-punk album that grabs you and refuses to let go. Wilkes has a perfect ear for the dialect of Kentucky, and his writing is so bright, you can almost see every abandoned shack, every kudzu-covered tree. Sure, it's bizarre, and at points almost gleefully obscene, but it's undeniably one of the smartest, most original Southern Gothic novels to come along in years.
Lesley Nneka Arimah
RaveNPR...[a] remarkable debut collection ... Of all of Arimah's considerable skills, this might be her greatest: She crafts stories that reward rereading, not because they're unclear or confusing, but because it's so tempting to revisit each exquisite sentence, each uniquely beautiful description ... Arimah's collection somehow manages to be both cohesive and varied at the same time. None of the stories resemble one another, exactly, but they manage to form a book united not only by theme and by setting (the stories mostly take place in Nigeria and the U.S.), but by Arimah's electrifying, defiantly original writing. It's a truly wonderful debut by a young author who seems certain to have a very bright literary future ahead of her.
RaveNPR...[a] stunning, audacious new thriller...an urgent novel that's as challenging as it is terrifying ... White Tears is part thriller, part literary horror novel, and completely impossible to put down. It's a tight book: Kunzru keeps building suspense until the very last page, and he offers the reader no breaks from the terror. His writing is propulsive, clear and bright, whether he's describing an old blues song or a shocking act of violence. And while it's a timely novel about a topic that's frequently discussed in America, Kunzru is never pedantic or preachy. A plot like the one in White Tears could easily lead to a heavy-handed lecture disguised as a work of fiction, but Kunzru lets the story go where it needs to; he doesn't polemicize because he doesn't need to.
RaveNPR...at once a love story, a fable, and a chilling reflection on what it means to be displaced, unable to return home and unwelcome anywhere else ... Hamid does an excellent job portraying the relationship between Saeed and Nadia...And he captures the feeling of being displaced beautifully — this is the best writing of Hamid's career. The novel is poetic, full of long, flowing sentences ... There's not a wasted word in Exit West; every one is considered carefully. This makes every sentence hit hard — the writing makes it hard to put down, but readers will find themselves going back and savoring each paragraph several times before moving on. He's that good. It's a breathtaking novel by one of the world's most fascinating young writers, and it arrives at an urgent time. Hamid encourages to us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, even when they've lived lives much harder than anything we've endured.
RaveNPRGrossman takes a lot of risks with A Horse Walks into a Bar, and every one of them pays off spectacularly well. Writing about a stand-up comedy set isn't easy; comic performances — even the bad ones — have a distinctive rhythm that can be difficult to recreate. But Grossman and translator Jessica Cohen do a wonderful job with Greenstein's long, sometimes borderline incoherent rants. It's also hard to pull off a novel set in the space of two hours, but Grossman's timing is perfect; the story feels urgent, and the reader can almost imagine being trapped in the comedy club with the increasingly confused audience ... A Horse Walks into a Bar is a novel as beautiful as it is unusual, and it's nearly impossible to put down. In the end, it's not as much about comedy as it is about witness: Greenstein needs someone to validate his pain, to let him know that he really has survived a life that's kicked him time and time again. As Lazar reflects toward the end of the novel, 'I believe he is reminding me of his request: that thing that comes out of a person without his control. That's what he wanted me to tell him. It cannot be put into words, I realize, and that must be the point of it.' It's hard to put any kind of pain into words, but Grossman does it absolutely perfectly.
RaveNPRShe's an unforgettable character, steely but likable, and The Dark Flood Rises is a beautiful rumination on what it means to grow old ... The Dark Flood Rises jumps from character to character, from England to the Canaries, but the transitions are never sudden or jarring. It's a narrative style that reflects Fran herself ... while the subject matter of the book is inescapably, well, dark, Drabble lightens the mood with some genuinely clever humor ... It's a truly lovely novel, and when Fran reaches an emotional breaking point it's hard not to cry with her, for her. This isn't a sentimental book, but it's a deeply emotional one. Drabble doesn't ask the reader to feel sorry for Fran; instead, she invites us to live in her world, to consider how sad, how funny, how genuinely absurd aging is.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...[a] brilliant second novel ... What appears to be a chilling horror tale is also a perfectly rendered story about family and loss ... The two threads of the story come together in a truly scary climax, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil any of it. Darnielle is a master at building suspense, and his writing is propulsive and urgent; it’s nearly impossible to stop reading. He’s also incredibly gifted at depicting the dark side of the rural Midwest ... Suspense and ambience count for only so much, though; a horror novel (or any kind of novel) works only with believable characters. And every one in Universal Harvester is realistic, especially Jeremy, who finds himself torn between staying at the video store and leaving it behind for more lucrative work ... So while it’s genuinely unsettling, it’s also a heartfelt reflection on family, as well as a kind of love letter to the often overlooked towns of the American Midwest ... Darnielle’s novel is beyond worthwhile; it’s a major work by an author who is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in American fiction.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveNPR...a beautiful collection that deftly illustrates the experiences of the kinds of people our country has, until recently, welcomed with open arms ... Remembrance is a common theme in Nguyen's stories, particularly the kind of unwelcome memories that haunt the pasts of those who have endured trauma ... Every story in The Refugees succeeds on its own terms, but the most affecting one, perhaps, is 'The Other Man,' about an 18-year-old man named Liem who seeks refuge in America in 1975, after the fall of Saigon ... an urgent, wonderful collection that proves that fiction can be more than mere storytelling — it can bear witness to the lives of people who we can't afford to forget.
RaveNPRAuster's novel is never boring, but it can get confusing, especially at the beginning of the book — readers will likely find themselves flipping back ... Auster wisely chooses not to make Ferguson a Forrest Gump-type character, implausibly present for every significant historical moment. He also gives each iteration a subtle self-awareness about their parallel existences ... There aren't many authors who could pull an 880-page novel like this off, and it's a little surprising that Auster manages to do it so well. That's not because he's not a great writer, but he's never been known for his loquacity or long, flowing sentences before. But he's a gifted observer, and his writing is so energetic, he makes it work ... Occasionally, Auster goes on a little too long — the novel is perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be...Nonetheless, it's a stunningly ambitious novel, and a pleasure to read. Auster's writing is joyful, even in the book's darkest moments, and never ponderous or showy ... Auster proves himself a master of navigating these worlds, and even though all might not happen for the best in any of them, it's an incredibly moving, true journey.
RaveNPR...[a] stunning short story collection ... Many authors like their characters to play coy, to circumlocute their way around their motives and desires. Moshfegh doesn't like to play this game. Her characters are largely blunt and unfiltered; you don't have to guess what they're really thinking ... There's not a story in Homesick for Another World that's anything less than original and perfectly constructed. Moshfegh's talent is unique, and her characters — unfiltered, cold, frequently pathetic — are all the more memorable for their faults and obliviousness.
RaveNPR...[an] electrifying debut ... Fridlund refuses to obey the conventions that her sometimes hidebound colleagues do, and her novel is so much the better for it ... History of Wolves isn't a typical thriller any more than it's a typical coming-of-age novel; Fridlund does a remarkable job transcending genres without sacrificing the suspense that builds steadily in the book ... History of Wolves is as beautiful and as icy as the Minnesota woods where it's set, and with her first book, Fridlund has already proven herself to be a singular talent.
RaveNPRThe Sellout isn't just one of the most hilarious American novels in years, it also might be the first truly great satirical novel of the century ... while there is plenty of real sadness in The Sellout, it's tempered by Beatty's outrageously hilarious mockery of politics, entertainment, and pretty much everything else. It's a risky book unconcerned about offending readers, which is a rare thing indeed in today's easily outraged culture ... The Sellout is a comic masterpiece, but it's much more than just that — it's one of the smartest and most honest reflections on race and identity in America in a very long time.
RaveNPR\"Alameddine is a writer with a boundless imagination, and his latest book feels almost completely unrestrained. In the hands of a less gifted author, that could be a problem. But Alameddine\'s writing is so beautiful, so exuberant, that the reader is willing to go along with the ride, no matter how wild it is. And it does get wild — some passages approach stream-of-consciousness, but there\'s nothing in the novel that\'s remotely self-indulgent ... The Angel of History isn\'t just a brilliant novel, it\'s a heartfelt cry in the dark, a reminder that we can never forget our past, the friends and family we\'ve loved and lost.\
RaveNPR...takes place in less than 24 hours, but packs in more twists, jokes and genuinely moving dialogue than anyone has the right to expect ... Semple crafts her twists and turns beautifully; they're always surprising and never less than hilarious ... Semple navigates the strait between funny and tragic with incredible grace ... Today Will Be Different is hilarious, moving and written perfectly, and it makes a good case for Semple as one of America's best living comic novelists.
PanNPR... suspense novel that lacks much in the way of suspense, a psychological thriller that's more laughable than scary ... The reader knows that Lib is skeptical because Donoghue hammers the point home with a heroic lack of subtlety ... The Wonder is as phoned-in as a novel could be. Her writing is flat and repetitive, and the plot, such as it is, is maddening. Fans of Room might find something to be interested in here, but for everybody else, it's just another entry in the ever-growing catalog of mediocre suspense novels about children in pain.
Peter Ho Davies
RaveNPR...a beautifully constructed novel ... Davies does a masterful job tying the strands together in the novel's final section ... The Fortunes is a stunning look at what it means to be Chinese, what it means to be American, and what it means to be a person navigating the strands of identity, the things that made us who we are, whoever that is.
RaveNPR...at turns gleefully obscene, shockingly violent and riotously funny. In other words, it's Carl Hiaasen doing what he does best ... In the hands of another author, Razor Girl could have turned out shambolic and confused. But Hiaasen is a gifted storyteller who knows that the key to keeping readers engaged is a mixture of suspense and humor.
RaveNPRHer book isn't the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, but it's surely one of the best ... Behold the Dreamers is, at times, hard to read — not because of her writing, which is excellent, but because the characters keep getting hit, over and over again, by horrible circumstances beyond their control ... a remarkable debut.
RaveNPRIn The Underground Railroad, Whitehead has created a portrayal of pre-Civil War America that doesn't shy away from the inhumanity that wounded this country, nearly mortally, wounds that still haven't healed. Whitehead proves once again that he's a master of language — there are no wasted words in the book, and it's apparent that each sentence was crafted with exacting care ... The Underground Railroad is an American masterpiece, as much a searing document of a cruel history as a uniquely brilliant work of fiction.
MixedNPRA Hundred Thousand Worlds is a charming, sprawling novel by an author whose ambition, while laudable, sometimes gets the best of him ... Proehl's best accomplishment in the book is the very realistic, and very sweet, relationship between Valerie and Alex ... But the novel is, unfortunately, way too busy, and the other characters aren't as well-realized as Valerie and Alex ... messy at times, but it's not without its charms.
RaveNPR\"...there\'s no character in Dennis-Benn\'s novel that\'s anything less than complex, multifaceted, and breathtakingly real. That\'s part of what makes Here Comes the Sun one of the most stunningly beautiful novels in recent years ... Dennis-Benn\'s writing is so assured, so gorgeous, that it\'s hard to believe Here Comes the Sun is a debut novel. There are no wasted words; every sentence is constructed with care and a clear eye ... tough, beautiful and necessary, and it feels like a miracle.\
MixedNPRIn As Good as Gone, Watson doesn't stray too far — geographically or thematically — from the territory he explored in his acclaimed 1993 novella Montana 1948. That's not necessarily a bad thing; at his best, Watson evokes Big Sky Country as well as Montana writing legends like Ivan Doig, Jim Harrison and Norman Maclean. And like those authors, Watson is a naturally gifted storyteller, plainspoken and unpretentious. In the context of a Western novel, it's a great voice, evocative of the West, and it works best when Watson is writing about Calvin ... Watson has his finger on the pulse of a certain archetype: the quiet, tough cowboy who you don't want to tick off. And that's Calvin. Notwithstanding his quirks he's not much different from any other character of his brand. That's not necessarily a fatal flaw, but none of the other characters in Watson's novel manage to distinguish themselves either. Bill is kind, well-intentioned but feckless, his wife, Marjorie is a cipher. Ann seems to be there mostly for a damsel-in-distress set piece ... That's not to say there isn't anything to enjoy here. Watson is excellent at building suspense, and As Good as Gone is frequently exciting in a cinematic sense. And even though the novel isn't perfect, Watson is a generous writer, and his love of the West and the people who live there shines through.
RaveNPRIt wouldn't be fair to reveal too much of the plot of Girls on Fire. The first adult novel (and with its scenes of sex and violence, it's very, very adult) from young adult author Wasserman, much of its power depends on the suspense that she carefully constructs. That's not to say this is a run-of-the-mill thriller; it's a perfectly constructed literary novel, but one that dares its readers to put it down. And it's nearly impossible to put down. Much of that is because Wasserman's characters are so flawlessly realized — Hannah is an appealing everygirl, Lacey is compelling and terrifying, and Nikki is surprisingly complex, a sadistic manipulator who may or may not actually have a good heart ... Wasserman's novel turns the Satanic panic of the Reagan-Bush years on its head, and the result is a novel that's terrifying, upsetting and hypnotically beautiful. There's not a false step in it, and you never want it to end, although you know it has to. Girls on Fire is an inferno — it's brutally gorgeous, and you know it could explode anytime, but you can't turn away, even for a second.
Ricardo Piglia, trans. Sergio Weisman
RaveNPR\"It would be a mistake...to call Ricardo Piglia\'s Target in the Night just a detective novel, although a murder mystery is at its heart. The Argentine author\'s book, released in Spanish five years ago and newly translated by Sergio Waisman, is much more than that. It\'s Piglia\'s postmodern, brainy and sometimes funny take on the detective thriller, and it\'s an absolute joy to read.\
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesYou could call the novel meandering, and it is, but in the best possible way ... Hicks does a near-perfect job tracing each character's evolving needs, desires and resentments over the course of seven years ... The themes in Amateurs — friendship, love, envy — could potentially make for a maudlin novel. But Hicks, while undoubtedly a compassionate author, is never sentimental. He writes with a similar measured earnestness that calls to mind the best of Ann Beattie and Anne Tyler.
RaveNPRThe Mirror Thief is as difficult to explain as it is completely original. It's one of the most intricately plotted novels in recent years, and to call it imaginative seems like a massive understatement. The three stories are as different from each other as can be, and the fact that Seay weaves them together so skillfully is almost miraculous ... There's no doubt that Seay swings for the fences with his novel, and the scope of his ambition is endlessly impressive. The Mirror Thief is a startling, beautiful gem of a book that at times approaches a masterpiece.
PositiveNPRThis new collection, while not flawless, showcases Johnson's immense creativity and intelligence, and his admirers will find a lot to love in most of these six stories ... Johnson is tremendously talented, and even though not all of the stories cohere, they still manage to enlighten. The best stories in the collection are nothing less than brilliant, even if the worlds he creates aren't necessarily ones we want to live in.
Claire Vaye Watkins
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWatkins' vision is profoundly terrifying. It's a novel that's effective precisely because it's so realistic — while Watkins' image of the future is undeniably dire, there's nothing about it that sounds implausible ... The prose in Gold Fame Citrus is stunningly beautiful, even when — especially when — Watkins is describing the badlands that Southern California has become ... It's an urgent, frequently merciless book, as unrelenting as it is brilliant. Watkins forces us to confront things we'd probably rather ignore, but because we're human, we can't.
RaveNPR[Alvar's] book, as Walt Whitman might say, contains multitudes — not just because of its varied settings, from the Philippines to the U.S. to Bahrain, but because every character is different, and portrayed with love and a rare kind of understanding ... Alvar finds beauty in the unlikeliest of places, and that's what makes In the Country such an inspired, remarkable book. Her characters, even the lucky ones, are never far from affliction, and never really close to home, even when they've lived in the same place their whole lives. Alvar finds triumph in the torment and deliverance in the agony.
RaveNPRSeierstad does an incredible job telling the whole story of the massacre and its aftermath, the deeply flawed response by law enforcement and the families who lost children. Her writing, translated into English by Sarah Death, is both straightforward and compassionate. She doesn't spare the reader's feelings; it's a deeply painful book to experience ... One of Us is a masterpiece of journalism, a deeply painful chronicle of an inexplicable and horrifying attack that we'll likely never understand.
RaveNPRThe book contains the same sly humor, gorgeous writing and magical characters as her previous efforts. It is, in a word, flawless.
RaveNPRIt's difficult to write with emotional honesty about the people on the very edge of society, the misfits among misfits. But even when he writes with humor, Jodzio never treats his characters as a joke. He's a compassionate writer who is refreshingly unafraid to take risks, and his book is, well, a knockout.
A. Igoni Barrett
PanNPR...Blackass, though very good in parts, doesn't really work as a novel. Barrett definitely has great ideas and original observations, but it seems like he's tried too hard to force them all into one book. The result is a novel that's not unenjoyable, but one that never really comes together.
PanNPRYou have to give Yapa credit for his ambition, and it's obvious that he's a writer of great compassion. The concept behind Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a good one, but the execution is, at best, amateurish.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesHotels of North America feels like a novel hung on a gimmick that can't sustain it, a novel unsure of what it wants to be. It's not quite entertaining enough to work as a comedy, and it's too slight to be wholly profound.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWhile Peters' history of copyright law is endlessly interesting — he's fluent in both English and lawyer-speak, and he does a great job explaining sometimes arcane legislation — it's his portrait of Swartz that makes The Idealist such a riveting book.
RaveNPRIt's a funny, sweet and beautifully written novel about a young woman trying to make sense of both her family and her nation's history, which have become more intertwined for her than most people would be able to understand. Olsson makes a wonderful case for dealing with the past and trying to move on, even when it's painful.
PositiveNPR...light on details, but heavy on thought and charm, and it's a fitting final work for an author with a long and remarkable career...a lovely coda to the career of a man who made American literature a kinder, smarter, better place.
RaveNPRIn short, writers like Costello because he has always taken writing seriously. That's obvious to anyone who pays attention to his lyrics, and it's even more apparent to anyone who reads Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, his charming new autobiography. The book is refreshingly free of salacious gossip and needless name-dropping; it's an intelligent self-assessment from a musician who went from angry young man to elder statesman of pop.
RaveNPRBrownstein's music has always helped people feel like they really do belong somewhere, and her wonderful memoir does the same thing.
PanNPROnly the Animals is a high-concept collection that only a very small number of authors could possibly pull off. Dovey is not one of them.
RaveNPRIt's the rare collection that doesn't have a single story, even a single paragraph, that's less than brilliant, and it proves that Williams is quite possibly America's best living writer of short stories.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe one constant in This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is Evison’s brutal honesty. It’s an unrelentingly dark book, belied by its whimsical cover, all pastel blue-greens and bright yellow, and by the excitable exclamation point tacked on the end of the title.