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 Star Tribune... more than just a love letter to the striated caracaras, although it\'s definitely that; it\'s also a fascinating look at history, evolution and how humans interact with the creatures that we share the planet with ... Meiburg is an enormously skilled writer, and even if you\'ve never heard of striated caracaras, you\'re likely to be drawn in by his enthusiasm and elegant prose. And while A Most Remarkable Creature is an endlessly interesting look at the birds, Meiburg proves to be just as adept at writing about the people he\'s encountered along the way. Skillfully researched and beautifully written, Meiburg\'s debut is a most remarkable book.
RaveNPRIt\'s a fascinating look at the process that led to one of the 20th century\'s most iconic works of art ... Histories of filmmaking can easily turn into inside baseball, interesting only to film students and the most dedicated cinéastes, but Frankel does a remarkable job telling the story of how the movie happened. He\'s such a gifted storyteller that you don\'t even have to be familiar with the film to find the book fascinating ... That Frankel is willing to point out that the movie is flawed is part of what makes the book so essential—Shooting Midnight Cowboy is a history, not a paean, and he asks viewers to reconsider what the movie meant, not just to American culture, but to the cast and crew who made it. Frankel\'s book is a must-read for anyone interested in cinematic history, and an enthralling look at Schlesinger\'s \'dark, difficult masterpiece and the deeply gifted and flawed men and women who made it.\'
RaveThe Star TribuneIt\'s an absolutely brilliant book from a critic who\'s become one of the country\'s most essential writers ... Abdurraqib proves to be remarkably gifted at exploring all angles of a topic, linking them in deft and unexpected ways ... It\'s fascinating to witness Abdurraqib go from place to place and end up somewhere unexpected, but somehow perfect. In one of the most powerful pieces in the book, Abdurraqib reflects on performances of softness, drawing on topics like his mother\'s death and the Wu-Tang Clan\'s music video for \'Triumph\' ... he\'s a brilliant writer, but also a deeply generous, loving one. Critics, as Abdurraqib would know, are taught to avoid superlatives, but sometimes there\'s no other choice. To call Abdurraqib anything less than one of the best writers working in America, and to call this book anything less than a masterpiece, would be doing him, and literature as a whole, a disservice.
RaveThe Boston GlobeBailey paints a vivid portrait ... Roth’s relationship with Martinson is in some ways the first test of Bailey’s biography — it’s obvious that the author admires his subject, but he’s careful to point out Roth’s own flaws, some of which were quite serious ... Bailey does an excellent job writing not just about [Portnoy\'s Complaint], but about the furor it caused ... Accusations that Roth hated women enraged the novelist, but Bailey neither exactly acquits nor convicts him of the charges...He does, however, present a warts-and-all portrayal of Roth’s relationships with women ... Bailey writes about Roth’s later years with a sensitivity that’s respectful but not worshipful ... a fair-minded book, and Bailey does an excellent job writing about the life of the author who tended to play his cards close to his vest ... Bailey also proves to be an intelligent reader of Roth’s books, and the biography is peppered with sharp insights — not all favorable ones — into the late author’s canon ... It’s a wonderful book that seems certain to become the definitive biography of Roth’s fascinating, sometimes troubling, life — Roth was a brilliant writer, and Bailey does him justice in this beautifully written and highly readable volume.
Jeremy Atherton Lin
RaveNPRThe subtitle of Atherton Lin\'s book is Why We Went Out, and the London-based author offers plenty of reasons in this remarkable debut. Gay Bar combines memoir, history and criticism; it\'s a difficult book to pin down, but that\'s what makes it so readable and so endlessly fascinating ... The prospect of losing gay bars leads him to reflect on their presence in his life. He writes beautifully about his college days in Los Angeles, where he went to his first one, though he can\'t recall the name ... Much of the book details his relationship with Famous Blue Raincoat, whom he met at a London nightclub while traveling through Europe with a college friend. The two fell in love pretty much instantly ... The passages about Famous Blue Raincoat are tender; while it can be difficult to write about romantic relationships in a memoir, Lin does so with real affection that never turns cloying ... Atherton Lin describes the gay bars that he frequented, and his descriptions of the establishments are endlessly evocative ... Atherton Lin explores topics like architecture and urban geography, as they relate to gay bars, beautifully; he writes with a real knowledge that\'s more than just intellectual dilettantism ... Gay Bar is a book that\'s beyond impressive, and Atherton Lin\'s writing is both extremely intelligent and refreshingly unpretentious.
RaveNPRIt\'s an excellent chronicle not just of McKissick\'s project, but of an America in the 1970s still influenced by anti-Black racism ... The Soul City project was a fascinating one, and Healy does a wonderful job explaining how and why it ultimately failed. The book is meticulously researched, and Healy expertly provides ample context; he paints an excellent, and accurate, picture of America in the 1970s, a country still in denial about the racism that was poisoning the nation to its core. He also manages to craft a deft, readable narrative out of the ups and downs of the Soul City project. Government grants and bank loans aren\'t topics that typically scream \'page-turner,\' but Healy is a natural storyteller; the book is difficult to put down, even if you know how it ends. Most importantly, Soul City succeeds because of Healy\'s trenchant analysis.
RaveNPRIt\'s difficult, of course, to write a book that seeks to know someone who seemed incapable of being known, but Harris does so perfectly; Mike Nichols is a masterful biography, and essential reading for anyone interested in theater or film ... Nichols, with his quicksilver mood and wide-ranging career, is a challenging subject for a biographer, but Harris does a beautiful job painting a portrait of a man who was as brilliant as he was enigmatic ... Harris also packs the book with his own intelligent analyses of Nichols\' work ... Anyone with an abiding love for film or theater will be fascinated by Mike Nichols, but even those with only a passing familiarity with his work are likely to find themselves taken in by this engrossing biography. Harris\' book is a masterwork, endlessly engaging, and one of the best biographies of an American artist to be published in recent years.
RaveNPRThere aren\'t too many American authors for whom the publication of a new book is a bona fide literary event, but Allan Gurganus is one of them ... The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus is his first book since 2013, and it\'s more than worth the wait. The collection is Gurganus at his finest: funny, compassionate, and marked by the author\'s amazing ability to reflect the lightness — and darkness — in the souls of his fascinating characters ... This is a remarkable book, and it proves once again why Gurganus is one of the country\'s most talented and imaginative writers. Coming after a year where nothing went right, and the world was forced to realize that things might not work out in the end, it\'s a hopeful tonic.
RaveNPRThere\'s not a bad story in the bunch, and it\'s as accomplished a book as Barry has ever written ... Barry does an excellent job probing the psyche of his diffident protagonist, and ends the story with an unexpected moment of sweetness that\'s anything but cloying — realism doesn\'t need to be miserablism, he seems to hint; sometimes things actually do work out ... Barry has a rare gift for crafting characters the reader cares about despite their flaws; in just 13 pages, he manages to make Hannah and Setanta come to life through sharp dialogue and keen observations ... Barry proves to be a master of writing about both love and cruelty ... Barry brilliantly evokes both the good and bad sides of love, and does so with stunningly gorgeous writing ... There\'s not an aspect of writing that Barry doesn\'t excel at. His dialogue rings true, and he\'s amazingly gifted at scene-setting — he evokes both the landscape of western Ireland and the landscape of the human heart beautifully. His greatest accomplishment, perhaps, is his understanding of the ways our collective psyche works; he seems to have an innate sense of why people behave the way we do, and exactly what we\'re capable of, both good and bad.
Aoko Matsuda, Trans. by Polly Barton
RaveNPRWhere the Wild Ladies Are is an audacious book, a collection of ghost stories that\'s spooky, original and defiantly feminist. All of the stories in Matsuda\'s collection are based, loosely, on traditional Japanese stories of yōkai, ghosts and monsters that figure prominently in the country\'s folklore. But Matsuda puts her own clever spin on them, and each of her stories feels original and contemporary ... And what remarkable stories they are. Like the subject matter of the book, Matsuda\'s writing, and Polly Barton\'s masterful translation, seems to exist on a higher plane — the author seems to see things the rest of us can\'t (or won\'t), and writes with a subtle self-assuredness mixed with a sly, unexpected sense of humor. Where the Wild Ladies Are would make for great Halloween reading, although these aren\'t the same old horror stories you\'ve encountered before — they\'re novel, shimmering masterworks from a writer who seems incapable of being anything less than original.
RaveNational Public RadioMemorial isn\'t just every bit as brilliant as its predecessor. It\'s somehow even better ... part of what makes Memorial so believable is Washington\'s uncanny ability to draw the reader\'s attention to what\'s not said as much as what is. The dialogue in the novel is pitch-perfect, but it\'s in the spaces between the talking — the awkward silences, the questions left unanswered — that the characters reveal themselves ... Just like Lot, Memorial is a quietly stunning book, a masterpiece that asks us to reflect on what we owe to the people who enter our lives.
RaveNPRAlter makes his case convincingly ... while it\'s evident that he admires Carter—the title of the book is a bit of a giveaway—His Very Best isn\'t at all a hagiography; it\'s a fair-minded assessment of the life and career of the politician from Plains. Alter paints a vivid picture of Carter\'s childhood in rural Georgia ... if the past four decades of Carter\'s life don\'t get as much ink as some readers might hope, Alter does do a good job summarizing the former president\'s extensive humanitarian work with the Carter Center ... a fascinating book, and Alter tells Carter\'s life story beautifully and with admirable fairness—he treats Carter as a real person, as flawed as anyone else, and not as a saint. Alter\'s pacing is wonderful; his accounts of some of the more dramatic events in Carter\'s presidency are thrillingly told, but this never comes at the cost of the humanity of the people involved. It\'s a book that\'s bound to fascinate anyone with an interest in American history, and an excellent look at the man whom Alter considers, justifiably, \'perhaps the most misunderstood president in American history.\'
RaveThe Boston GlobeAdmirers of Hazzard’s novels will find much to love here, but it also proves to be a fine introduction to the late author’s work ... The stories in the final section of the collection are all quite beautiful, with \'Comfort\' perhaps the most accomplished. It’s a gorgeous snapshot of a story, taking place over a brief conversation between a woman in an unhappy relationship and her friend, a man who’s in love with her ... It’s a stunning story, like so many of the others in the collection. Hazzard understood the human condition in all its contradiction, all its messiness, like few others. Collected Stories is certainly essential for admirers of the author, but it’s also a wonderful read for anyone who loves fiction that delights and enlightens, challenges and rewards.
RaveThe Star TribuneIn his new book...author David King presents a fascinating history of the Kreditbanken robbery and its aftermath. It’s a book that’s sure to delight both true crime fans and readers with an interest in psychology ... King does an excellent job chronicling the bond that developed between Olsson and his victims, as well as the police’s sometimes ham-handed attempts to get the robber to surrender. The book is tightly paced and reads like a thriller novel; King’s writing is electrifying but never lurid ... Six Days in August is a true-crime book that has real appeal to all readers — it’s a thrilling look back at a robbery that remains one of the most bizarre crimes of the 20th century.
PositiveNPRIt\'s an interesting book, though limited in scope—while Meacham does a good job contextualizing Lewis\' civil rights work in the 1960s, it doesn\'t paint a full portrait of the legendary activist ... Meacham writes eloquently about Lewis\' participation in the first march from Selma ... Meacham\'s book is good for what it is—an introduction to one decade in Lewis\' remarkable life. It\'s not more than that, and doesn\'t quite seek to be, but readers hoping to find a full portrait of the congressman will be disappointed ... The most interesting parts of Meacham\'s book are his observations about how Lewis\' activism was inspired by his Christian faith ... But while Meacham is undoubtedly sincere about his admiration for Lewis\' faith, concentrating mostly on that aspect of his life—an undeniably important one, to be sure—limits the book in a way many might find frustrating ... Nonetheless, it\'s an inspiring book that comes at a time when the world desperately needs inspiration.
RaveThe Texas ObserverBaker refuses to play anything straight in this book ... Baker refuses to engage in stereotypes about the politically dissatisfied hoi polloi in rural areas ... a socially conscious book, though not a didactic one ... Among Baker’s skills is a sharp sense of humor ... Stories that satirize American big business are a dime a dozen, of course, but this one stands out for its dark humor and witty dialogue. Baker captures perfectly the way young men of the dude-bro variety speak to one another. There are shades of George Saunders, but it’s not derivative; the book manages to be both fun and socially perceptive, a difficult twofer to pull off ... Not every story in the book is successful ... But that’s the exception, not the rule. Most of the stories in Why Visit America are both clever and graceful, written with perceptiveness and a subtlety that’s often lacking in fiction that addresses social justice issues. Baker will fascinate with his boundless imagination and talent for crafting memorable prose.
RaveNPR... a stunning book that urges us to reconsider our relationship with the natural world, and fight to preserve it ... The experience of reading Vesper Flights is almost dizzying, in the best possible way. Macdonald has many fascinations, and her enthusiasm for her subjects is infectious. She takes her essays to unexpected places, but it never feels forced ... Macdonald is endlessly thoughtful, but she\'s also a brilliant writer — Vesper Flights is full of sentences that reward re-reading because of how exquisitely crafted they are ... What sets Vesper Flights apart from other nature writing is the sense of adoration Macdonald brings to her subjects. She writes with an almost breathless enthusiasm that can\'t be faked; she\'s a deeply sincere author in an age when ironic detachment seems de rigueur ... a beautiful and generous book, one that offers hope to a world in desperate need of it.
RaveThe Star TribuneLilia Liska...is a fascinating character, filled with resentment and regret, but compelling enough that the reader is unable to look away ... Lilia is a true original, and Li wisely lets her speak for herself through the bulk of the book as she riffs on Roland’s writing. Li does a wonderful job of letting readers decide how much of what Lilia says is true grit, and how much is the bravado of a proud but wounded woman. Must I Go is a triumph of a novel about how we navigate grief that seems unmanageable.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe [first] story manages to be both deeply funny and deeply troubling, which is the case for every story in Martin’s remarkable book.
Yu Miri, Trans. by Morgan Giles
RaveNPR... a relatively slim novel that packs an enormous emotional punch, thanks to Yu\'s gorgeous, haunting writing and Morgan Giles\' wonderful translation ... The circumstances behind Kazu\'s death are revealed late in the book, and they\'re almost unbearable to read. But while Yu\'s writing is unsparing, never letting the reader forget the enormities of poverty and loss, it\'s also quite beautiful, particularly when Kazu describes his current, liminal state ... Kazu\'s personal pain and his poverty are inextricable from each other, and Yu does a magnificent job exploring the effects of all kinds of loss on the human psyche. Tokyo Ueno Station is a stunning novel, and a harsh, uncompromising look at existential despair.
Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
RaveNPR... fascinating and extremely readable ... Considering Meltzer\'s literary background, it\'s no surprise that The Lincoln Conspiracy reads like an expertly crafted thriller. What\'s remarkable about the book is that Meltzer and Mensch are able to sustain the suspense even though the reader knows how it ends ... They\'re able to pull that off because of their gift for pacing and because of the structure of the book — it has short, punchy chapters, each of which teases the next. As was the case with their book about George Washington, Meltzer and Mensch do have a tendency to end each chapter with somewhat breathless prose, not unlike the way some television shows end each act with a cliffhanger. And while that may annoy readers with a taste for more academic history, it\'s an effective technique that\'s likely to pique the interest of more casual history fans. That\'s not to say the book isn\'t well researched; it is, very much so, with nearly 50 pages of endnotes drawn from Lincoln\'s and Pinkerton\'s papers. Meltzer and Mensch have clearly done their homework, and they prove to be experts at rendering history in an urgent, exciting way ... is, despite its dark subject matter, relentlessly fun to read. Meltzer and Mensch are refreshingly unpretentious authors who prove gifted at providing essential context to the main storyline — they deftly paint a picture of 19th-century America, taking deep dives into Lincoln\'s life and the prevailing attitudes toward race and politics at the time. It\'s an expertly crafted book that seems sure to delight readers with an interest in lesser-known episodes of American history.
RaveAlta... stunning ... a dizzying novel, as Millet keeps us off balance from beginning to end ... Millet is a brilliant stylist...Her writing in A Children’s Bible is as strong as it’s ever been ... What Millet is offering is a moral novel for the generation that grew up with climate change as an inevitability, and it’s no surprise that the author—a longtime environmentalist who works at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson—writes with a palpable anger that morphs into outright rage ... A Children’s Bible is unapologetically apocalyptic, and it arrives at a particularly fraught time. Readers will find much that they have come, in the past few months, to recognize: hoarding, price gouging, the tragedy of the commons playing out over and over again. Literature never exists in a vacuum, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to consider Millet’s novel apart from the crisis that the world is facing ... a beautiful, brutal novel that calls all of us to account for abandoning our stewardship of the earth, but it is also a tender, sensitive look at the generations doomed to deal with the broken planet we will leave behind.
RaveAlta... electric ... a chronicle of one person’s bad decisions, but it never descends into a cautionary tale or morality play. Dorn deftly portrays the emptiness and longing for validation that Prue tries to hide under a bon vivant veneer. She also does an excellent job describing the terror that comes with anxiety disorder ... a bleak work of fiction, but Dorn leavens it with some (admittedly dark) humor ... It’s tempting to compare Vagablonde to Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, another quintessentially Californian saga about a woman turning to drugs in an attempt to feel. But Dorn’s firecracker of a novel is all her own.
MixedLos Angeles TimesIn her promising but frustratingly uneven novel, Reddi...tips over into melodrama, dampening its impact ... It’s a well researched novel about a time and place in American history that few outside Southern California likely know about, and Reddi does a very good job evoking the physical and political landscape of the early-20th century Imperial Valley. She’s particularly sharp on the effects of California’s Alien Land Laws ... And Reddi is a talented writer with a gift for pacing ... But the story is framed awkwardly, with the first chapter taking place decades after the main story. Reddi should have let the main narrative stand alone. While Passage West is by no means fatally flawed, Reddi too often repeats herself; she is overly fond of and reliant on stock phrases ... Too much of the dialogue is clumsy and needlessly expository, suffering from Reddi’s unfortunate choice to write in dialect ... Passage West feels like a missed opportunity, a novel in need of a tighter narrative and more fleshed-out characters.
RaveNPRThere are countless books about World War II, but there\'s only one Erik Larson ... Over his career, he has developed a reputation for being able to write about disparate subjects with intelligence, wit and beautiful prose ... Fans of Larson will be happy to hear that his latest book, The Splendid and the Vile, is no exception. It\'s a sprawling, gripping account of Winston Churchill\'s first year as prime minister of the United Kingdom, and it\'s nearly impossible to put down ... Larson\'s decision to focus on a wide group of people is a wise one. While Churchill is clearly the main character, Larson\'s profiles of his aides and colleagues add valuable context to the prime minister\'s role in the war. Many books have been written about Churchill, obviously, but by expanding the scope of his book, Larson provides an even deeper understanding of the legendary politician ... And although he doesn\'t at all neglect Churchill\'s actions and policies, he also paints a vivid portrait of the politician\'s personality .. There are many things to admire about The Splendid and the Vile, but chief among them is Larson\'s electric writing. The book reads like a novel, and even though everyone (hopefully) knows how the war ultimately ended, he keeps the reader turning the pages with his gripping prose. It\'s a more than worthy addition to the long list of books about World War II and a bravura performance by one of America\'s greatest storytellers.
Deb Olin Unferth
RaveTexas Observer... a wildly inventive novel ... It’s a powerful book and a dazzling feat of imagination from one of the country’s most exciting authors ... Unferth has chosen a fascinating, unusual structure for Barn 8 ... It’s a testament to Unferth’s talent that she’s able to pull this off; the brief chapters featuring [the hen] Bwwaauk are surprisingly tender and somehow never come across as gimmicky. An omniscient narrator punctuates the story with explanations of what will happen in the future. These are all risky choices, but in Unferth’s capable hands, they work Barn 8 is unmistakably a social novel in the vein of The Jungle. Unlike Upton Sinclair’s book, though, this isn’t a heavy-handed critique masquerading as a work of fiction. The farmers and animal-rights activists are all portrayed as complex people, sometimes noble, often flawed, and not stand-ins for ideas ... Remarkably, Unferth finds ways to leaven the novel with humor ... It’s bleak, but also brilliant. Unferth is a gifted writer with a sprawling imagination and a message that the country desperately needs to hear: When we hurt animals, we also hurt ourselves, and our dishonesty and apathy serve no good purpose.
RaveNPRBurns\' second novel, Little Constructions, just published for the first time in the U.S., proves that she\'s always been that good. It\'s a bizarre and dark fever dream of a book that asks serious questions (and provides some unsettling answers) about misogyny and violence against women ... The novel follows the aftermath of Jetty\'s vendetta against John, and the ensuing implosion of the worst family ever. I think it does, anyway. Little Constructions is a page turner, but it\'s not always easy to follow ... There\'s also the mysterious narrator, who\'s forever going off on odd tangents about the family and the town. It seems as if Burns is deliberately throwing the reader off track in an attempt to illustrate the confusion and unreality that are the product of lives spent in the midst of unrelenting violence ... It\'s a successful technique. The reader, at times, feels dizzy, almost nauseated by the book\'s freewheeling narrative, and that feeling is intensified when Burns writes about the violence that John and his associates mete out to just about everybody ...Burns is a magical writer, and Little Constructions is a firestorm of a novel, filled with a rage that feels unstoppable. It\'s also a sharp critique of a culture steeped in guns, violence and hatred of women.
RaveThe Star TribuneThammavongsa isn’t just gifted at exploring the dynamics of families adjusting to new lives, she’s also an immensely talented writer. Her gift for poetry translates perfectly into fiction; her prose is spare but vivid, with no wasted words, and she has an unusual gift for descriptions that stick with the reader. How to Pronounce Knife is a wonderful fiction debut that proves to be a perfect showcase for Thammavongsa’s skill with language and her abundant compassion. It’s also a reminder of our shared humanity at a time when we need it most.
Emily St. John Mandel
RaveNPR... a striking book that\'s every bit as powerful— and timely—as its predecessor ... In Vincent and Paul, Mandel has created two of the most memorable characters in recent American fiction ... Mandel dedicates much of the book to the victims of Jonathan\'s crimes, following several people who lost their life savings in the Ponzi scheme. She treats them with compassion, which she also extends to Jonathan, humanizing but not excusing him .... Mandel\'s writing shines throughout the book, just as it did in Station Eleven. She\'s not a showy writer, but an unerringly graceful one, and she treats her characters with compassion but not pity. The Glass Hotel is a masterpiece, just as good — if not better — than its predecessor. It\'s a stunning look at how people react to disasters, both small and large, and the temptation that some have to give up when faced with tragedy
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
PositiveNPRThe stories they present are mostly depressing ones ... When they let themselves express the anger they feel over the failures of the government, their writing stands out ... The book ends, helpfully, with an appendix listing suggestions for how people can make a difference in their own communities ... Tightrope is a convincing argument that it\'s not too late to change the course of the nation ... It\'s difficult to read, and it was surely difficult to write, but it feels — now more than ever — deeply necessary.
RaveNPR... dazzling ... Wildly inventive and daring, [Bonnaffons\'] novel is a reflection on the limits of love that\'s both hilarious and heartbreaking ... In the hands of another author, The Regrets could have become something like the movie Ghost as reimagined by Nicholas Sparks. But Bonnaffons resists sentimentality and treacly reflections on love — her novel is open-hearted, but never cloying or dewy-eyed...That\'s partly because she writes with a straight face, never indulging in whimsy and always taking her characters seriously. And the writing itself is flawless — it can be difficult to pull off a love story, especially when one of the lovers is a ghost, but Bonnaffons does so with confidence and real insight into what it means to be totally infatuated with another person ... Bonnaffons also proves to be quite funny, and the humor in the novel keeps it from becoming unbearably sad ... a miracle of a love story, a brilliant novel that asks perceptive questions about the line between love and (literal) possession, about what we\'re willing to do for love, and what it feels like to be \'photographic negative of a person, an absence given form, a loose ache of consciousness attached to a cheap facsimile of a body.\'
Crissy Van Meter
RaveNPRShe\'s a memorable character, and Creatures, Van Meter\'s excellent debut novel, is a beautiful look at how we navigate the pain and heartbreak that comes with being human ... Creatures jumps back and forth in time, with chapters exploring Evie\'s childhood and ones taking place after her marriage to the fisherman ... This narrative technique works spectacularly well — by rejecting a strictly linear storyline, Van Meter seems to highlight that lives don\'t happen in a straight line; we\'re all a collection of past and present, and we never really escape what\'s happened to us years ago ... Van Meter also displays a real talent for crafting characters that feel real, with impulses both good and bad, and the capacity to love and to hurt ... frequently heartbreaking, but never mawkish ... Van Meter is a wonderful writer, and her novel is so beautifully written, it\'s somewhat surprising that it\'s a debut. Creatures is a gift of a book
Andrew Grant Jackson
RaveNPR... fascinating ... paints a vivid portrait of the year through the lens of popular music ... Jackson writes about the social trends and historical events of the 1970s, and his analysis of sexuality and rock music is particularly interesting ... Jackson also takes a fascinating look at gender and rock music...providing useful context for readers curious about the rise of women in rock ... While 1973 is chiefly concerned with rock, Jackson also includes well-researched chapters about the year in other genres, writing beautifully about Stevie Wonder\'s landmark R&B album Innervisions and Gram Parsons\' progressive-country record GP. He deftly discusses the sea change in country music that occurred around 1973 ... Jackson also proves to have a real talent for evoking the places that made 1973 such a consequential year in music ... It\'s clear that the intended audience for 1973 is rock aficionados, and they\'ll absolutely find much to admire in its pages — the book is the product of a tremendous amount of research, and Jackson writes with an enthusiasm that any music fan will find instantly contagious. He\'s as comfortable explaining the rise of new radio formats as he is dissecting the lyrics of some of the year\'s most famous songs, and he clearly loves the subject matter ... But it\'s also a book that will appeal to anyone with an abiding interest in (relatively) recent American history. Rock music has never existed in a vacuum, and in Jackson\'s hands it proves to be a fascinating mirror of society as a whole — particularly in an America when the Age of Aquarius was transitioning, awkwardly, to the Age of Watergate. Jackson is a wonderful writer and a knowledgeable guide to the America of the early 1970s, and 1973 is an engaging look at the music that changed our culture forever.
RaveNPR... delightful ... a hilarious book that also manages to be a genuinely moving look at the end of adolescence ... isn\'t a plot-heavy novel; it\'s more of a character study told through a series of darkly funny conversations among the four friends (and, to a lesser extent, Nietzsche, who doesn\'t talk much). That\'s not to say it\'s boring at all — Iyer\'s dialogue is so funny, and rings so true, that it\'s something of a challenge not to read the whole thing in a single sitting ... Disgruntled teenagers are famously hard to know, but Iyer depicts them accurately and with a real sensitivity, never mocking or condescending to them. He captures their adolescent bravado beautifully ... Crucially, though, he also captures the moments when they let their guard down, when they forget to be disaffected for a few minutes and open themselves up to happiness ... observant, funny and compassionate. It\'s obvious that he loves his characters, and his enthusiasm for them is contagious — it\'s impossible not to root for these hard-edged but sweet kids, even as they practically beg you to disdain them. Nietzsche and the Burbs is an anthem for young misfits and a hilarious, triumphant book about friendship.
RaveNPR... wonderful ... a remarkable achievement ... [Powell] spends time with a wide array of people who live on the reservation, and presents their stories with a sympathy that\'s never condescending. The results of his interviews can be heartbreaking ... a book about basketball the same way that Buzz Bissinger\'s Friday Night Lights is a book about football — while sports are the ostensible focus, Powell\'s real interest is the community that drives the team. That\'s not to say Powell\'s coverage of Chinle\'s games isn\'t fascinating; indeed, he recaps the matches with an expert pacing, and creates an atmosphere of suspense as the Wildcats\' season progresses. He\'s an excellent sportswriter with an obvious love for the game, and he does a great job explaining what makes rez ball so unique ... But it\'s his deep dives into the lives of those associated with Chinle and its high school that sets Canyon Dreams apart. He profiles not just the players and coaching staff, but also teachers, townspeople and activists, and the result is a moving portrait of what it\'s like to live on the reservation. Powell even incorporates memoir into the book, writing about his own explorations of the town, and how he came to be so invested in its people ... difficult to categorize, but it\'s unmistakably beautiful. Powell is a gifted and giving writer, and his book is at once a reflection on youth and ambition and a fascinating chronicle of a town\'s struggle to survive in a world that\'s often cruel and hostile.
RaveNPRMarkovits\' book is a perceptive look at how families function in times of stress, and it\'s also a loving look at a city in a permanent state of flux ... Anyone who\'s been in the middle of a family trying to maintain normalcy at a fraught time is bound to relate. The author proves to be a master at capturing family dynamics ... Christmas in Austin is an emotional book that never descends into pathos ... Markovits presents everyday miseries in a way that\'s affecting but never manipulative ... Austinites will find much to appreciate in Markovits\' book, but the novel is bound to appeal to anyone who\'s a fan of the psychological realism of authors like Ann Beattie or Anne Tyler. He seems to suggest that nobody is ever really home, even when they\'re in the house they grew up in, and that families are less cohesive units than they are collections of people who are constantly and unpredictably changing. Markovits is a wonderful writer, unfailingly sensitive and intelligent, and Christmas in Austin is a gift.
RaveNPR... wonderful ... Goodman\'s book is a fascinating look at a team full of talented young men who torpedoed their careers because they were unable to resist the lure of easy money ... Goodman does a wonderful job recounting the Beavers\' games — fans of the game will find much to love in his play-by-play descriptions of CCNY\'s march to the championships, but you don\'t need to be a hardcore basketball fan to keep up ... He also proves to be excellent at providing historical context for the scandal ... Goodman doesn\'t let the players off the hook, but writes about them with a real sympathy: They were essentially kids who paid a harsh price for making admittedly poor decisions, he argues ... The CCNY point-shaving scandal remains, decades after it happened, a heartbreaking story of venality, and Goodman turns out to be the perfect author to tell it. The City Game is a gripping history of one of college basketball\'s darkest moments, an all too human tale of young people blowing up their futures in a misguided attempt to make good.
RaveNPRCahalan intersperses her research into the Rosenhan experiment with fascinating, and dispiriting, history about the mistreatment of mentally ill people throughout the ages ... Cahalan is clearly passionate about the subject matter, and her outrage makes The Great Pretender an urgent, personal book. But she\'s also an incredibly dogged investigative reporter, tracking every lead she gets fully and with a real determination to get to the truth. Her findings are undoubtedly discouraging, but they\'re also undeniably important ... She\'s also an absolutely incredible writer. The Great Pretender reads, in parts, like a suspense novel, with the reader unable to stop turning the pages. That\'s not to say it\'s sensationalistic or lurid at all — Cahalan is a measured author, but her book is a clarion call, and she writes with a real sense of urgency and with strong, self-assured prose ... With Brain on Fire, Cahalan proved she was an uncommonly courageous journalist, and her follow-up cements her place in the ranks of the country\'s sharpest writers of nonfiction. The Great Pretender is an essential book, and a plea for the world to come to terms with the way we\'re treating some of our most vulnerable people.
PositiveNPR... fascinating ... Nelson does an excellent job following the money ... bound to appeal to those whose interest in politics run deep, but it\'s not so inside baseball that lay readers will be stuck in the weeds. Nelson doesn\'t assume that her readers will be intimate with the ins and outs of how money influences politics, but she also never condescends to her audience — she does an admirable job providing context for the CNP and groups like it, and introducing readers to some of the lesser-known names with ties to the organization ... Nelson is not a neutral political observer, nor does she claim to be, which means Shadow Network will appeal much more to progressive and moderate readers than to conservative ones. She doesn\'t hide her animus for what she calls the \'shrewd, remarkable and sometimes unscrupulous characters\' who have made their mark on the American right, but she never descends into conspiracy theorizing — she makes her case soberly and with a historian\'s scrupulousness ... a fascinating book, and readers curious about how the American right gets its message out will find much to admire in it. It also serves as a grim warning for progressives who might already be counting their chickens before the 2020 election.
RaveNPRWright is an unpredictable author with an unwavering commitment to the surreal; you get the feeling he couldn\'t write a straight story even if he wanted to ...simultaneously angry and resigned, a darkly funny satire of American consumer culture in all its greed, lust and sloth — really, just name a deadly sin. Dizzying and bleak, it\'s Wright at his best ... The world that Wright creates in Processed Cheese is a tremendously unsettling one, largely because it\'s essentially indistinguishable from our own ... It\'s easy for authors who go down this road to get lost in their own whimsy, but Wright plays it with something like a straight face, which lends the novel a profoundly disturbing air ... Processed Cheese is brilliant, but it\'s at times difficult to read, and that\'s almost certainly by design ... An excoriating critique of what America has become, Processed Cheese is an exhausting, maddening and unforgettable book.
RaveNPRThere is very little light in The Fishermen; it\'s a relentlessly somber book that still manages to pull the reader in even as it gets more and more melancholy. The few scenes of carefree childhood joy are clouded by the prospect of what\'s to come, and Obioma is unsparing when it comes to writing about death, grief and the increasingly tragic destruction of an already beaten down family ... As dark as Obioma\'s prose is, though, it\'s also beautiful. His use of language is rich and hypnotic, and nearly every page is filled with an unexpected and perfectly rendered description ... Many parts of The Fishermen read like an incantation, albeit one that slowly turns into an elegy ... The Fishermen might be bleak, but it\'s an excellent debut that does a very good job wrestling with some extremely difficult themes. Obioma writes with sophistication and inventiveness; he\'s obviously deeply in love with the English language, and it shows. This is a dark and beautiful book by a writer with seemingly endless promise.
PositiveNPR...one of the most thoughtful and fun reading experiences you\'re likely to have this year ... It\'s a convoluted plot that relies a little too heavily on convenient coincidences, but Sloan pulls it off with his extremely charismatic prose. He\'s a deeply funny writer ... Perhaps the biggest problem with Mr. Penumbra\'s 24-Hour Bookstore is its epilogue, which ties up the book\'s loose ends far too neatly. If it weren\'t for the perfectly rendered last paragraph, Sloan\'s closing pages could have been a disaster, badly marring an otherwise fine novel ... But there\'s so much large-hearted magic in the book, it seems almost petty to complain. Sloan is remarkably gifted and has an obviously deep affection for both literature and technology ... At its best, Mr. Penumbra\'s 24-Hour Bookstore reminds us of the miracle of reading, no matter how you choose to do it.
RaveNPR... a beautiful and perceptive look at the connections we make — and fail to make — with family, friends and strangers. Lok\'s literary debut is among the strongest of the year, thanks to her excellent writing and uncanny ability to create complex characters with the same stubborn flaws as real people ... doesn\'t feel at all like a debut book; Lok writes with the self-assuredness of a literary veteran and the insight of someone who\'s spent a lifetime studying how humans interact. It\'s a gorgeous collection that urges us to do our best to connect with one another — the alternative, as some of Lok\'s more unfortunate characters demonstrate, is oblivion.
RaveNPR[Love is] a notoriously difficult subject for writers, though god knows it hasn\'t stopped them from trying, with very mixed results. It\'s rare that somebody gets it right, which is why Matt Bell\'s debut novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, is so remarkable. It\'s one of the most thoughtful recent works of fiction on a subject that defeats many writers before they pick up their pens ... It\'s hard to imagine a book more difficult to pull off, but Bell proves as self-assured as he is audacious. His prose, which manages to be both mournful and propulsive, is undeniable. While he\'s been compared to authors like Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, his style is very much his own, lacking any obvious antecedent. In the House contains passages far scarier than most mainstream horror novels, but Bell writes with a warmth, a humanity that renders the scenes gut-wrenching on an emotional level. Characters in fairy tales are often stand-ins for ideas, props used to illustrate a moral. Bell does a superb job of avoiding this trap, though; he writes about the family with both a clear sense of empathy and an expert novelist\'s unblinking eye.Bell\'s novel isn\'t just a joy to read, it\'s also one of the smartest meditations on the subjects of love, family and marriage in recent years.
RaveNPR... an unconventional rock memoir that doesn\'t hew to the genre\'s norms. And like her entire musical catalog, it\'s honest, original and absolutely remarkable ... honesty that\'s almost shocking ... Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows her songs, Phair writes about love and sex with a refreshing frankness ... There are so many things to admire about Horror Stories, it\'s hard to list them all. It\'s a memoir with an original and fascinating structure — Phair recognizes that a chronological account of her life could only go so far in explaining how she became the person she is. She mostly avoids writing about her own songs, and while this may seem to be an odd choice, it\'s actually quite refreshing — her music, she seems to indicate, can speak for itself ... But the real star of Horror Stories is Phair\'s elegant but unpretentious writing, which proves she\'s as adept at writing prose as she is at writing songs. And anyone familiar with her music knows how great a thing that is. It\'s a truly wonderful memoir, and a rare look into, as she writes, \'the haunting melodies I hear over and over again in my head.\'
RaveWBUR\'Shirley Temple Three\' is one of the most touching and original stories in Hall of Small Mammals, a debut collection that reads like the work of a much older, established fiction master. The stories in Pierce\'s book explore the ordinary in the otherworldly, the surreal in the mundane, and the results are stunning and unexpected ... Some of Pierce\'s stories have a bizarre, compelling mix of pathos and humor that recalls writers like George Saunders ... While Pierce has a real affection for the fantastic and the dreamlike, he shines even more brightly when writing about the prosaic ... The best story in the collection is \'Grasshopper Kings,\' about a father and son attempting to bond at a camp sponsored by a Boy Scouts-like group ... There isn\'t a weak story in Hall of Small Mammals, and Pierce is an endlessly incisive and engaging writer. It\'s a book full of wisdom and emotion, with stories that explore what it means to live and die in a world filled with invisible things.
RaveThe Texas Observer... a beautifully crafted and terrifying thrill ride of a book ... Hamill uses the jumps in time wisely; the cuts between years are never jarring. And he avoids the nostalgia trap that tends to mire other writers who choose the recent past as their settings ... He does make some sly references, though, which he then subverts in seriously creepy ways ... Hamill traffics in the disturbing, like Stephen King at his most upsetting ... almost more John Irving than King, since Hamill writes about family, sex, and all things grotesque with a gleeful openness. In a way, the novel is a twisted coming-of-age tale, with all the benchmarks of male adolescence—shame, jealousy, anger, and id—personified in the form of a monster and transformed into literal horror ... a novel that’s both beautiful and terrifying, which isn’t the easiest thing to pull off. Hamill knows how to craft great horror fiction, but he’s also a keen observer of how families cope with loss and with one another. He recognizes that not everything gets resolved neatly, that sometimes darkness just leads to more darkness.
RaveNPR... a sprawling, unforgettable epic from an immensely talented author who\'s unafraid to take risks ... Hirut and Navarra eventually cross paths during the war, which leads to their emotional reunion at the book\'s end. It\'s a stunningly powerful moment, and Mengiste renders it with real honesty — there\'s no melodrama at all; it\'s a painfully human moment from which it\'s nearly impossible to turn away...And it\'s rendered all the more effective by Mengiste\'s gift at creating memorable characters. Hirut is unforgettable; the girl is resilient but not superhuman, vulnerable but determined not to think of herself as a victim ... The star of the novel, however, is Mengiste\'s gorgeous writing, which makes The Shadow King nearly impossible to put down. Mengiste has a real gift for language; her writing is powerful but never florid, gripping the reader and refusing to let go. And this, combined with her excellent sense of pacing, makes the book one of the most beautiful novels of the year. It\'s a brave, stunning call for the world to remember all who we\'ve lost to senseless violence.
RaveNewsday... a taut, engrossing thriller from one of the most exciting voices in the genre ... As with all of the Longmire books, Johnson packs Land of Wolves with a memorable supporting cast ... Johnson is careful to give all his characters their own personalities and motivations; none exists just to move the narrative along ... But as usual, it’s Longmire who steals the show. Johnson has an obvious and abiding love for his cranky hero, and Land of Wolves explores his human side beautifully ... It’s impressive that Johnson can take such a deep dive into Longmire’s character while still keeping the action coming ... expertly paced, and Johnson isn’t an author who believes in wasting time — the plot takes several twists and turns until it culminates in a clever, shocking ending. It’s what readers have come to expect from Johnson and Longmire, but it’s not just more of the same. This is a smart, thoughtful mystery from an author who’s incapable of being boring, and who’s writing at the top of his game.
RaveNPRIt wouldn\'t be fair to spoil what happens...but it\'s both bizarre and painfully human. The Beautiful Bureaucrat isn\'t a thriller, exactly, but it reads like one — there\'s not a wasted word in the book, and it\'s nearly impossible to put down. Phillips is a master at evoking claustrophobic spaces, whether it\'s Josephine\'s unbearably tiny, windowless office, or the efficiency apartment she shares with her husband. It\'s a deeply tense book, but never a manipulative one. It\'s also quite funny. Phillips\' sense of humor is bizarre, dark but not oppressive ... Perhaps the best part of The Beautiful Bureaucrat is the relationship between Josephine and Joseph. For writers inspired by Kafka (and Phillips, though an extremely original author, clearly is here), characters too often become stand-ins for ideas, or deliberately vague placeholders used to illustrate how society can dehumanize us. But the couple\'s relationship is utterly believable; they fight and laugh and make love the way people who care about each other really do. It\'s not for a second sentimental or treacly; it\'s just astoundingly real. And that\'s the most remarkable thing about The Beautiful Bureaucrat — it works just as well as a love story as it does a sui generis thriller. That\'s not to say it\'s a book you can easily label. Of course there are echoes of Kafka, but they\'re tempered by Phillips\' exuberance, her humor, and her very real sense of joyful defiance. It\'s a surprising revelation of a book from an uncompromising author as unique as she is talented.
RaveNPRHarrigan, essentially, is to Texas literature what Willie Nelson is to Texas music ... And his latest book might just be the one he was born to write. Big Wonderful Thing, a sprawling history of the Lone Star state, showcases Harrigan\'s enthusiasm for Texas — it\'s an endlessly fascinating look at how the state has evolved over the years ... He does an excellent job exploring the dynamics between the Spanish and French settlers and the indigenous people — Apaches, Comanches and others — who took exception to having their homeland colonized ... Past histories of Texas have focused heavily on the accomplishments, both real and legendary, of white men. But Harrigan, thankfully, doesn\'t forget the wide range of people that made Texas what it is ... Books as long as Big Wonderful Thing can often seem intimidating rather than inviting, but Harrigan\'s book is so beautifully written, it actually leaves the reader wanting more. It\'s clear that he loves the state, but he\'s refreshingly unwilling to perpetuate the mythology that\'s built up around it — the truth, he seems to argue, is much more interesting than the apocryphal stories that have persisted for decades ... Texas is an incredibly fascinating state — and Harrigan, who recognizes that the state\'s diversity is what makes it great, truly does it justice. Endlessly readable and written with great care, Big Wonderful Thing is just that.
MixedNPR...a hit-or-miss collection from a writer who\'s quite impressive when he\'s on his game ... Keret shines when he\'s gentle and when he gives himself room to explore his characters. This isn\'t always the case in Fly Already, though. The two-page story \'At Night,\' which briefly explores a family in financial trouble, suffers from its brevity and its pointless whimsy — it approaches cleverness, but never quite gets there. The same applies to the metafictional \'Fungus,\' about a car crash; it ends with a kind of philosophical navel-gazing that just doesn\'t rise to the standards he\'s set for himself in the book\'s other stories. Keret shines when he\'s gentle and when he gives himself room to explore his characters. This isn\'t always the case in Fly Already, though. It also shows one of Keret\'s main limitations: the more dyspeptic his stories get, the less interesting they are ... Keret at his best is brilliant, though ... [\'Pineapple Crush\'] is nearly perfect; some of the others in this collection are almost as good. But Fly Already, as a whole, is too uneven — it\'s a book that feels like a missed opportunity.
PositiveNPREarly in Life, Richards describes his first guitar, \'a gut-string job,\' given to him by his mother when he was 15: \'I took it everywhere and I went to sleep with my arm laid across it.\' It\'s the kind of honest, guileless moment that makes this book so charming, so unexpectedly moving. Richards might epitomize the popular idea of the rock lifestyle more than any other living artist -- and he doesn\'t shy away from admitting his deep affections for women and drugs -- but he\'s at his best, unsurprisingly, when he\'s rhapsodizing about rock ... The tone of Life veers dangerously close to humorless spite when Richards recounts his frustrations with his bandmates ... Richards\'s memoir, like his now universally famous guitar riffs, is likable and infectious; co-author James Fox has done an admirable job preserving the rocker\'s unique voice, while weaving a compelling and sometimes fascinating narrative ...
Kimberly King Parsons
RaveNPRSheila, the narrator of Kimberly King Parson\'s story \'Guts,\' can\'t run away from bodies: not her own, not others\' ... Parsons brings heartbreaking details to \'Guts\' ... It\'s a beautiful and uncomfortable story, just like all the others in Black Light, Parsons\' wild and compassionate debut collection ... Black Light isn\'t at all suffocating, and Parsons doesn\'t wallow in gloom. She writes with the unpredictable power of a firecracker, bringing flashes of illumination to people who struggle with disappointment, both in themselves and others. Every story in this collection is beyond remarkable, and Parsons proves herself to be a gutsy country-punk poet with a keen eye and a stubbornly unique sensibility.
RaveNPRO\'Brien has no intention of letting the reader look away, even for a second ... a stunning novel that forces us to confront one of the more shocking events of recent years. It\'s a painful read, but an absolutely essential one ... The book ends on a note that\'s hopeful, but realistic — O\'Brien doesn\'t condemn her character to despair, nor does she seek to downplay the enormity of the brutality she\'s survived ... an exceptionally fast-paced book; O\'Brien has long been known for writing that gets to the point and eschews superfluous language, and she continues that style here. This makes the novel feel all the more urgent, and the scenes of violence — which O\'Brien renders with harsh, unrelenting detail — even more difficult to read. This is likely by design: O\'Brien insists that her readers bear witness to Maryam\'s ordeal ... O\'Brien refuses to shy away from the horrors that the Nigerian schoolgirls went through, but she also declines to give in to pessimism ... a perfect, and devastating, description of the persistence of trauma, its insistence on filling the space available to it — and Girl is a stunning novel, another remarkable achievement from one of the English language\'s greatest living writers.
RaveNPRWhether you like him or not, he\'s probably the best political writer in the United Kingdom or the United States, and his new memoir, Hitch-22, is smart, funny and unexpectedly touching ... Hitch-22 is almost three memoirs in one -- literary, political and personal -- but it\'s smooth, cohesive and relentlessly readable. Hitchens proves especially good at chronicling his education as a writer, as well as his friendships with fellow authors like James Fenton, Edward Said, Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie ... Hitchens\' reflections on matters literary and political are witty, intelligent and absorbing, but it\'s really the chapters about his family and his childhood that make this such an accomplished memoir.
RaveNPR... a lovely novel about the bonds of family and how religion can bring people together as well as tear them apart ... This narrative technique can be a tricky one, but Hassib structures it beautifully — while there\'s real suspense in the book, it\'s not at the expense of the characters, who are each given ample space to tell their own stories, reveal their own motivations. (This applies to the suicide bomber too; while Hassib doesn\'t downplay the enormity of his actions, she carefully explains the forces that led him down the destructive path he took) ... While A Pure Heart deals with religion and politics, it\'s essentially a family novel, and Hassib displays a keen understanding of how the relationships between spouses, siblings, and parents and children play out during times of stress ... the novel is never didactic; Hassib never moralizes or resorts to glib platitudes when discussing topics that many people instinctively avoid, and her novel is the better for it. Hassib is a perceptive writer with a real understanding of how people act — not how they ought to act — and A Pure Heart is a novel that\'s as honest as it is engrossing.
RaveNPRTeenagers exist in a world of heightened emotions, and it can be tricky for writers to evoke that state of mind without seeming either distant or patronizing. This isn\'t a problem for Hassman — as in her debut novel, girlchild, she captures the anxieties and affections of young people in a perfectly realistic way, without a note of condescension ... And while Hassman proves masterful at recounting Helen and her friends\' most painful moments, she also brings a disarming sense of humor to the novel ... Hassman is a vastly talented writer, and she brings to the novel a fascinating structure — gods with a little g is told in a series of short vignettes; the result is a staccato kind of narrative that brilliantly evokes the feeling of being a teenager, constantly addled, at loose ends, desperate to make a connection. And for all its dark moments, it\'s a novel that\'s as heartwarming as it is beautifully written.
RaveNPRCaro has once again shown that he might well be the greatest presidential historian we\'ve ever had ... Although the amount of research Caro has done for these books is staggering, it\'s his immense talent as a writer that has made his biography of Johnson one of America\'s most amazing literary achievements ... Even at more than 700 pages, there\'s not a wasted word, not a needless anecdote ... Caro\'s portrayal of the president is as scrupulously fair as it is passionate and deeply felt ... By writing the best presidential biography the country has ever seen, he\'s forever changed the way we think, and read, American history.
RaveNPR... an excellent book from a perceptive and unshowy writer ... fascinating ... It\'s an accomplished book, filled with bone-dry humor and incisive observations about people who desperately need to connect, but have no idea how. It\'s also a powerful literary reminder that nostalgia and magical thinking both threaten the way we relate to one another, and to ourselves.
RaveNewsday... fascinating ... While it’s clear Wilson has a real affection for his subject, he doesn’t treat Barnum with kid gloves; the book isn’t the hagiography that Wilson hints at in the beginning. It’s a fair-minded look at a figure who didn’t always acquit himself well even by the standards of his time ... an excellent biography of a difficult subject — Wilson makes a convincing case that the legendary showman’s many faults should be considered in tandem with his accomplishments, which changed the course of American entertainment forever ... Wilson’s book is the thoughtful biography that [Barnum] has long deserved.
Sarah Elaine Smith
RaveNPRSmith never moralizes in Marilou is Everywhere; she understands the flaws that make everyone — especially those who have been beaten down the world — human. And that\'s indicative of Smith\'s compassion and generosity as a writer. She never condescends to the characters in the novel, never asks her readers to pity them. While many books set in rural America descend into poverty porn, Smith keeps the humanity of the characters in sharp focus, showing a real love ... Smith does a beautiful job articulating this desire that Cindy has, and explaining why she finds herself unable to stop searching for it, even as her life — and Bernadette\'s — slowly fall apart ... a novel of stunning emotional intelligence, and Cindy an unforgettable character, but it\'s Smith\'s writing that\'s the real star of the book. Her language is hypnotic and enchanting, with lines that read like poetry ... Nearly every page of the novel features a breathtaking turn of phrase; the book is almost otherworldly in its beauty and power.
Rion Amilcar Scott
RaveNPRScott\'s 2016 debut, Insurrections, was a breakout hit for the Maryland author, and showcased his sprawling imagination and beautiful writing. His follow-up, filled with the same dark humor and exuberant risk-taking, is somehow even better ... The stories in The World Doesn\'t Require You cross genres, with influences from science fiction...and straight-up horror ... Scott writes about the surreal and fantastic with a straight face, content to let the weirder elements of his stories to speak for themselves, and this technique lets his characters shine through — there\'s a real sense of humanity in each story, even the two in which the main character is a robot ... Scott\'s book ends with a firecracker of a novella ... The novella\'s ending is at once funny and wistful; it highlights Scott\'s sense of compassion without sacrificing his mordant edge. Like all of the stories in The World Doesn\'t Require You, it\'s powerful, unexpected and dreamy. The book is less a collection of short stories than it is an ethereal atlas of a world that\'s both wholly original and disturbingly familiar; Scott proves to be immensely talented at conjuring an alternate reality that looks like an amplified version of our own. Bizarre, tender and brilliantly imagined, The World Doesn\'t Require You isn\'t just one of the most inventive books of the year, it\'s also one of the best.
RaveNPRIt\'s a stunning collection that features some of the best writing of Danticat\'s brilliant career ... Danticat perfectly captures the complications of grief and the feeling of mourning a person you never had a chance to love ... The collection\'s best story is also possibly the best of Danticat\'s career ... Danticat beautifully traces how the specter of death haunts families and how we reckon with losses that haven\'t yet occurred. Danticat\'s writing is, as usual, superb. There are no wasted words in Everything Inside; she writes with both economy and urgency, never resorting to glib aphorisms and never shying away from difficult questions ... immensely rewarding.
PanThe Los Angeles Times...ambitious but deeply flawed ... Zentner packs a lot of plot into Copperhead; the story unfolds over the course of just a few days, and has more than its share of twists. This works both for and against the book—it’s undoubtedly a page-turner, and the pacing, for better or worse, is almost cinematic. But the novel’s climax, while certainly unexpected, just isn’t believable; what begins as a realist novel quickly descends into a melodrama that requires heroic levels of suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader ... Unfortunately, the characters and dialogue in the novel, for the most part, all ring equally false ... This is how movie characters talk, not actual people ... Perhaps the main problem with Copperhead is that the supposedly complicated questions it asks are not, in fact, difficult to answer ... It’s clear that Zentner’s heart is in the right place, and that he has real talent. But Copperhead never rises above the level of a clumsy morality play; it’s a novel that’s too facile for the issues Zentner seeks to address. Good intentions don’t always make for good literature, and this book, unfortunately, is proof.
RaveNPR...[a] dark, haunting novel ... It\'s tough to turn a story that\'s essentially just two people waiting for someone into a gripping narrative, but Barry manages to do just that ... Barry has a knack for dialogue that keeps the book moving; the running conversation between Maurice and Charlie is dark and often very funny ... As was evident in his previous novels, Beatlebone and City of Bohane, Barry\'s a remarkable sentence-level writer who\'s capable of extraordinary turns of phrase ... Novels that deal with subject matter as dark as this one run the risk of becoming suffocating, or collapsing under the weight of their gloom. But Barry avoids this trap by painting all of the characters as fully human — Maurice and Charlie behave monstrously, but the reader still feels for them ... Night Boat to Tangier is remarkable, a novel that\'s both grim and compassionate, and it features gorgeous writing on every page. Barry never asks the reader to pity his characters; rather, he makes it nearly impossible not to relate to them, which is a remarkable trick. It\'s not a novel that tries to teach lessons, except for maybe one: \'Hate is not the answer to love; death is the answer.\'
RaveNPR... gripping ... Houlahan proves to be a master at pacing — he writes with a narrative urgency that perfectly captures the quick and chaotic nature of the robbery. His prose incorporates the vernacular of the officers and criminals; it\'s hard-boiled, shot through with profanity, but never forced. It reads like a crime novel in the best way possible. But what\'s truly remarkable about the book is the depth Houlahan brings to the story. Norco \'80 isn\'t just a play-by-play account of the crime, as shocking as it was — he takes several deep dives into subjects related to the robbery ... Perhaps most interesting, however, is his look at the post-traumatic stress that the surviving officers were forced to endure ... With his first book, Houlahan proves himself to be an astonishingly gifted writer, breathing urgent life into a true story that still resonates today. Norco \'80 is a fascinating true-crime account that seems likely to be one of the best nonfiction books of the year.
PositiveNPR...an imperfect but promising debut from a writer whose view of relationships seems to alternate between hopeful and jaundiced ... Bob-Waksberg concentrates on the human aspects, only slyly waving at the extraordinary — human relationships, he seems to be saying, are weirder than anything else our imaginations can come up with. But while Bob-Waksberg clearly has a vast imagination, he\'s actually at his best when he takes on the world as we know it, with no superheroes or alternate universes ... Not all of the stories in the collection succeed, however. Bob-Waksberg sometimes allows his whimsy to get the better of him ... To his credit, Bob-Waksberg is willing to take risks — some of the stories in the book are told in the second person, which he consistently manages to pull off ... you have to admire Bob-Waksberg for his open-heartedness and his ambition — when you swing for the fences enough times, you\'re bound to whiff once in a while. Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory is a mixed bag, and when the author stumbles, it can be difficult to read. Nonetheless, it\'s a respectable book with some excellent work in it, and Bob-Waksberg clearly has real potential as a writer of fiction.
RaveLos Angeles TimesAwad does so many things right in Bunny ... Bunny functions perfectly as both a dark academic satire and a creepy horror novel, and Awad threads them both seamlessly—she can make the reader laugh out loud in one paragraph, and cringe with fear in the next ... With the Bunnies, Awad has created some of the most memorable antagonists in recent fiction. The young women are scarily believable contradictions ... They’re also perfect foils for Awad’s satire of the preciousness and navel-gazing that sometimes accompany discourse about creative writing ... Awad has a true gift for satire—Bunny is as mercilessly funny as similarly themed novels by Jane Smiley (Moo) and James Hynes (The Lecturer’s Tale). But it also shines as a horror tale ... It’s a novel that’s difficult to describe but easy to fall in love with ... Awad has proved herself one of the most innovative and original authors out there, and Bunny is a wild, audacious and ultimately unforgettable novel.
RaveNPRDiamond...doesn\'t appear to have the highest of hopes for the fate of the U.S., but that\'s no reason to skip Upheaval, his fascinating look at how countries have dealt with nationwide crises, and what we might be able to learn from them. The idea behind Upheaval is a captivating one that draws from both history and psychology ... Perhaps most interesting—and chilling—is Diamond\'s chapter on Chile, a country with \'a long history of democratic government\' until 1973, when its government was seized by its armed forces in a coup ... Although its subject matter is intrinsically distressing, Upheaval is not a gloomy or pessimistic book. Diamond is neither a cheerleader who promises that America, because it\'s somehow special, is incapable of dying, nor a doomsayer ... Diamond is an endlessly engaging writer, and the experience of reading Upheaval is similar to taking a college course from a professor who\'s as charming as he is polymathic. He\'s gifted at explaining the context of various national crises, providing fascinating background information (and sometimes personal anecdotes) without ever getting distracted by tangents. Diamond has an impressive range of knowledge ... Anyone with an interest in history, psychology, or the future of the country will find much to admire in Upheaval, and Diamond\'s take on how our nation might navigate its path forward is fascinating reading for anyone anxious about the state of the republic today.
RaveNPR... [a] stunning new novel ... Whitehead\'s description of the brutalities that Elwood and his schoolmates are subjected to are necessarily shocking, and as painful as it is to read about the violence against children, it\'s somehow even more sickening to read what it does to the young men\'s psyches. Whitehead writes about the cruelties inflicted by the school\'s staff with a calm matter-of-factness that actually amplifies the horror; the understated beauty of his writing, combined with the disquieting subject matter, creates a kind of dissonance that chills the reader. Whitehead has long had a gift for crafting unforgettable characters, and Elwood proves to be one of his best ... The Nickel Boys is a beautiful, wrenching act of witness, a painful remembrance of an \'infinite brotherhood of broken boys,\' and it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Whitehead is one of the most gifted novelists in America today.
RaveNPRThe stories in Any Other Place are understated and beautiful, and successfully conjure the unease of ordinary people unable to shake the feeling that something in their lives isn\'t quite right ... While [Croley\'s] stories find regular people in desperate situations, he never overplays his hand — nothing in the book seems forced; he gives his characters ample room to react to their circumstances. Croley writes with a stubborn realism that never comes close to veering into the showy or overwrought ... It\'s a beautiful collection and a remarkable debut effort from an author with a rare and compassionate understanding of the human condition.
RaveNPRThis is not a typical setup for a work of comedy. But somehow, Chapman\'s book is one of the funniest American novels to come around in years, a sharp satire of the literary scene as well as the broken prison system. Despite the grim subject matter, Chapman packs more laughs into 128 pages than most sitcoms do in an entire season ... the narrator\'s sheer punchability actually works in favor of the novel. Freed from the obligation to sympathize with him, the reader is able to appreciate the absurdity of the book, and the obvious fun Chapman is having with the story ... Chapman uses pitch-black humor to highlight how broken the system of criminal justice is ... Modern satirical novels sometimes make the rather obvious and fatal error of never approaching anything close to humor, but Chapman avoids that trap. Dark, daring, and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Riots I Have Known is one of the smartest — and best — novels of the year.
RaveNPRAdmirers of Here Comes the Sun have waited three years for Dennis-Benn\'s followup, and anyone who was enchanted by her gorgeous writing are in for a happy surprise: Patsy isn\'t just as good as its predecessor, it\'s somehow even better ... Dennis-Benn packs a great deal of emotional power into Patsy, and does so successfully because she\'s not afraid to confront truths that many other authors might shy away from. There are plenty of novels that celebrate the mother-daughter bond, but not as many that delve into its absence ... Dennis-Benn portrays Patsy beautifully, with real compassion and no judgment ... also looks unflinchingly at the experience of undocumented immigrants in America, who are forced to deal with racism and poverty in the land they\'ve always dreamed about ... benefits from Dennis-Benn\'s gorgeous writing — she has a strong narrative voice and a real gift for dialogue ... Dennis-Benn isn\'t just a compassionate writer, she\'s also a courageous one, unafraid to address topics that too often go ignored. And in Patsy and Tru, she\'s managed to create two unforgettable characters who function as real people and not literary archetypes. Dennis-Benn is quickly becoming an indispensable novelist, and Patsy is a brave, brilliant triumph of a book.
PositiveNPRIt\'s a fascinating look at a chapter in American history that\'s been somewhat neglected in the country\'s popular imagination ... McCullough recounts the first voyage by New Englanders to the Northwest Territory beautifully, detailing the sometimes difficult but ultimately successful trip to what\'s now Marietta, Ohio ... McCullough\'s book is told from the point of view of the pioneers, of course, and doesn\'t focus much on the Native Americans whom they displaced. The stories he tells also center mostly around the male settlers ... Like McCullough\'s other books, The Pioneers succeeds because of the author\'s strength as a storyteller. The book reads like a novel ... Both readable and packed with information drawn from painstaking research, The Pioneers is a worthy addition to McCullough\'s impressive body of work.
Philippe Besson, trans. by Molly Ringwald
PositiveNPRIt\'s not a groundbreaking book, but it\'s certainly an enjoyable one ... Readers with a taste for innovative plots will likely be disappointed with Lie With Me. The storyline is a well-worn one ... Besson renders Philippe beautifully, though, giving the boy a real sense of self-awareness ... Lie with Me succeeds as a novel because of Besson\'s graceful writing, beautifully translated by Ringwald. Besson is a gifted stylist, and he infuses Philippe\'s story with the right notes of sadness and longing ... lovely.
RaveNPROrange World, is stunning, and showcases the author at her best and most bizarre. It\'s at once a touching love story, a deeply unsettling horror tale, and a sharp satire about men who prefer their partners silent ... The eight stories that make up Orange World, Russell\'s fifth book, are all perfectly rendered, and form a perfect introduction to the author\'s off-center, magic-inflected world ... It\'s impressive that Russell can bring tears to a reader\'s eye with a story about a fictional greyhound, but she\'s equally gifted at using humor to explore relationships ... Orange World is a thing of beauty, a stunning collection from one of the most brilliant literary minds of her generation.
RaveNPR... surprising and brilliant ... super sad, also incredibly (but very darkly) funny ... at its most chilling, Super Sad True Love Story comes across as a cri de coeur from an author scared for his country. The biggest risk for any dystopian novel with a political edge is that it can easily become humorless or didactic; Shteyngart deftly avoids this trap by employing his disarming and absurd sense of humor (much of which is unprintable here). Combined with the near-future setting, the effect is a novel more immediate -- and thus more frightening, at least for contemporary readers -- than similarly themed books by Orwell, Huxley and Atwood ... The novelist knows how to get well-earned, knowing laughs, but it\'s the deeply sad, though not quite despairing, tone that makes this such a remarkable and unexpected novel.
PositiveNPR... surprising and audacious ... There are more than a few reasons why Pickle\'s Progress shouldn\'t work ... But the novel succeeds because of Butler\'s slyness — she\'s aware of the book\'s melodrama and even alludes to it at times ... Butler has a real understanding of the fraught dynamics of sibling relationships, and the way the brothers interact rings true ... a deeply weird novel that succeeds because of Butler\'s willingness to take risks and her considerable charisma — she\'s a gifted storyteller with a uniquely dry sense of humor and a real sympathy for her characters, even if they\'re not traditionally likable. It\'s not a perfect book, but it\'s a promising fiction debut from a writer who seems incapable of not going her own way.
RaveNPR\"Lane\'s account of Whitley\'s infiltration of the Klan is endlessly gripping, and he recounts it with an impressive narrative tension. He also does an excellent job placing the operation in historical context, chronicling the racism and resentment that built up in the South following the end of the Civil War. It can be difficult, though necessary, to read his descriptions of the Klan\'s reign of terror, but Lane is careful not to sensationalize the inhuman violence that was the group\'s stock-in-trade ... Lane proves himself to be an excellent researcher and writer, and Freedom\'s Detective is a captivating account of a flawed but remarkable man.\
Henry Louis Gates
RaveNPR...brilliant ... Gates\' book is a fascinating social and intellectual history of the time between Reconstruction and the rise of the Jim Crow period of American history. It\'s an absorbing and necessary look at an era in which the hard-fought gains of African-Americans were rolled back by embittered Southern whites — an era that, in some ways, has never really ended ... It will come as no surprise to anyone who\'s familiar with Gates\' impressive body of work that Stony the Road is every bit as fascinating as the author\'s previous books. It\'s a work of history, but a living one ... Gates\' analysis is predictably brilliant, but he\'s also just a joy to read. He writes in long sentences that don\'t ramble, but rather draw readers in and keep them engaged; his gift at crafting elegant prose serves to complement the persuasive arguments he makes in his book.
RaveLos Angeles TimesFitzpatrick does so many things right in Lights All Night Long, it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel. As a mystery, it’s paced perfectly, with the novel moving seamlessly back and forth in time between Ilya’s life in Russia and his new one in America. Fitzpatrick proves to be an expert at building suspense; it’s hard not to read the book in a single sitting. She also avoids falling into well-worn tropes or clichés of fiction ... Similarly, Fitzpatrick treats the blossoming relationship between Ilya and Sadie with admirable realism ... It’s tricky to capture the specific, sometimes difficult language that brothers use to let each other know they care, but Fitzpatrick manages to do so perfectly, and it makes their relationship all the more beautiful and affecting ... an expertly crafted mystery and a dazzling debut from an author who’s truly attuned to how families work at their darkest moments.
Takis Wurger, trans. by Charlotte Collin
PanNPR\"The book, a bestseller in Europe and now translated into English by Charlotte Collins, tackles hot-button issues of privilege and toxic masculinity, to mixed results. As a thriller, it\'s competent; as a literary novel, it\'s well-meaning but underwhelming ... The Club, like any thriller, depends on plot twists for its power, and unfortunately, the plot is pretty predictable ... That\'s not to say the book isn\'t readable; it is, and Würger knows how to use his spare prose to build suspense. Sadly, he hasn\'t put enough thought into character development ... Few of the other characters are adequately fleshed out either ... You can\'t fault Würger for being boring, though; he does keep the reader turning the pages, which is harder to do than it might seem. And his critique of gender and class privilege is well-taken — it\'s great that he\'s addressing these topics, and his heart is undoubtedly in the right place. He\'s not by any means an untalented author; it\'s easy to imagine him writing a more powerful thriller that deals with serious issues. Unfortunately, The Club isn\'t it.\
PanNPR\"Beattie\'s skepticism is on full display in the novel; unfortunately, the excellent writing and arch sense of humor that made her previous books so great are not ... A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is a profoundly maddening novel for several reasons, one of which is Beattie\'s evident unalloyed dislike of every character in the book. That\'s not to say a novel\'s characters have to be likable, but they do have to have some traits besides their unlikability. Beattie not only seems to regard her characters with contempt, it seems that she would very much like to punch them all in the face. She also doesn\'t quite have her finger on the pulse of the millennials she writes about ... A Wonderful Stroke of Luck is a charmless and rambling gesture at a novel from an author who\'s capable of so much better.\
RaveLos Angeles Times\"... Lalami’s book is a stunning and necessary look at a country struggling with racism, resentment and the aftermath of war ... The Other Americans manages to be many books at once: a gripping literary thriller, a complex love story and a sharp critique of an America wracked by war and hatred, divided against itself, constantly near a breaking point. And Lalami succeeds admirably on all fronts: The novel is intricately plotted, up to its shocking but unforced end. There are no unnecessary plot twists; Lalami is an intelligent author who’s not in love with her own cleverness ... all of the characters in the book are rendered beautifully, with dialogue that’s both natural and compelling ... The Other Americans is a beautiful, compassionate novel from a writer with keen insight into the human condition and a rare gift for crafting perfect prose.\
RaveNPR\"... stunning ... Lot paints an unforgettable picture of Houston and the people who call it home ... It\'s hard to overstate what an accomplishment Lot is. Washington, 25, writes with the wisdom and grace of someone twice his age — he\'s a keen observer of human nature; his characters are flawed but not irredeemable, and he writes about them with a compassion that\'s never condescending ... Washington writes about family dynamics with a brutal honesty. The young man\'s fights with his siblings and parents all ring true to life, as does his bitterness toward his absentee father, whom he blames for the destruction of his family ... Perhaps the most important character in Lot is Houston itself, and Washington does a brilliant job making the city come to life in all its imperfect glory. His book is an instant classic of Texas literature, but it\'s more than that — it\'s a stunning work of art from a young writer with immense talent and a rare sense of compassion, and one of the strongest literary debuts in several years.\
RaveNPR\"You can\'t rush great fiction, and that\'s exactly what Hempel delivers in her new collection, Sing to It. The fifteen stories in Hempel\'s new book showcase the author\'s immense talents, and prove that she\'s one of the most vital authors of short fiction writing today ... There\'s not a story in Sing to It that\'s less than brilliant, and the collection itself is even greater than the sum of its parts. Hempel occasionally draws comparisons to authors like Mary Robison and Joy Williams, but she writes like nobody else — she\'s an irreplaceable literary treasure who has mastered the art of the short story more skillfully than just about any other writer out there. Sing to It is a quiet masterpiece by a true American original.\
RaveNPR\"... both stunningly beautiful and breathtakingly original ... Trying to summarize the plot of Gingerbread is like trying to describe a strange dream you had—it\'s nearly impossible to put something so odd and compelling into words that will actually convey the experience ... And yet Oyeyemi not only pulls it off, she does so with flying colors. She has a gift for getting readers to not only suspend their disbelief, but to throw it out the window entirely. A hugely gifted storyteller, Oyeyemi writes with an infectious glee ... Oyeyemi is a master at pacing; it\'s hard to put down Gingerbread for even a second ... Gingerbread is an enchanting masterpiece by an author who\'s refreshingly unafraid to be joyful, and it proves that Oyeyemi is one of the best English-language authors in the world today.\
RaveNPR\"... one of the most original and most accomplished American novels of the decade ... It\'s hard to adequately describe how devastating, and how brilliant, Where Reasons End is. It\'s something like a metafiction, an essentially plotless novel that asks the reader to interrogate its language, indeed, to call all words into question ... [Li] succeeds, admirably. Where Reasons End is, as it must be, a profoundly sad novel, but Li never descends into mawkishness or sentimentality. She describes perfectly how the death of a loved one takes over the ones left behind, battering the survivors without rest ... Where Reasons End is the rarest of things: a perfect book, a masterpiece of American fiction, and it proves beyond a doubt that Li is one of this country\'s greatest writers. It\'s a beautiful look at what happens when language disappears, betrays us, lets us down...\
RaveThe Star Tribune\"[ Where Reasons End is] one of the most original and most accomplished American novels of the decade ... It’s hard to adequately describe how devastating, and how brilliant, Where Reasons End is. It’s something like a metafiction, an essentially plotless novel that asks the reader to interrogate its language, indeed, to call all words into question ... And [Li] succeeds, admirably. Where Reasons End is, as it must be, a profoundly sad novel, but Li never descends into mawkishness or sentimentality ... Where Reasons End is the rarest of things: a perfect book, a masterpiece of American fiction and proof beyond a doubt that Li is one of this country’s greatest writers. It’s a beautiful look at what happens when language disappears, betrays us, lets us down...\
RaveNewsdayReads like a novel — it’s a fascinating page-turner that captures \'history’s most unlikely revolution\' in all its wild absurdity ... Perrottet provides enough context for the reader to understand what came before the revolution, but doesn’t get too bogged down in history ... Perrottet does an excellent job capturing the absurdities that came with the revolution ... Interesting times require interesting authors to do them justice, and Perrottet proves himself more than up to the job. Cuba Libre! brings history to life with thorough research and wildly addictive writing.
RaveNPR\"... a wildly exuberant novel that doesn\'t shy away from the weirder and more disgusting parts of life. Vacuum in the Dark is a funny and surprisingly sweet book about a young woman who grew up too fast and is trying desperately to reinvent herself ... There are a lot of things to love about Vacuum in the Dark, but the character of Mona... is the main one ... Beagin is a wonderfully funny writer who also happens to tackle serious subjects, which few authors are able to pull off successfully ... the result is a comic novel that\'s a joy to read but never frivolous or superficial. Beagin is unafraid to take risks, and they all pay off here — Vacuum in the Dark is an excellent book by a writer with a singular voice.\
RaveNPR\"[Wilkinson\'s] first novel starts off with a literal bang, and never once lets up. American Spy is a beautifully paced spy thriller as well as a promising debut from a writer who\'s not content to rely on the settled tropes of any literary genre ... Wilkinson packs a lot of plot into American Spy ... But Wilkinson handles the several threads in the novel deftly, and she has a real gift for pacing — never once does the book flag or get bogged down, and it\'s never needlessly complex or confusing ... Wilkinson doesn\'t shy away from the moral ambiguity of American adventurism in the 1980s, and neither does her unforgettable narrator ... American Spy works on so many levels — it\'s an expertly written spy thriller as well as a deeply intelligent literary novel that tackles issues of politics, race and gender in a way that\'s never even close to being heavy-handed or didactic. Above all, it\'s just so much fun to read ... [American Spy] marks the debut of an immensely talented writer who\'s refreshingly unafraid to take risks, and has the skills to make those risks pay off.\
RaveLos Angeles TimesIt’s...[Bowman\'s] masterpiece—a sprawling, manic miracle of a book from a writer who never achieved the fame he long deserved ... It’s hard to explain the plot of Big Bang, because there really isn’t one; rather, there are dozens of plots, which Bowman juggles with an agility that’s breathtaking ... There are a hundred reasons why Big Bang shouldn’t work. Bowman has every opportunity to get carried away on tangents—early in the book, it’s easy to wonder whether this will end up as a novel-length shaggy-dog story—but he writes with a real focus, never abandoning any of the numerous plot lines that run through the book. His prose is elegant but stubbornly unshowy; he writes as if he were a documentarian, calmly reporting historical events with an assured and authoritative tone ... Bowman brings his characters to life the way only a novelist with real imagination can ... Bowman has a gift for drawing out the oddball in the celebrities he writes about, and the effect is sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious. Big Bang is a stunningly accomplished novel, both deeply American and deeply weird ... this is, after all, a work of fiction, and a vastly entertaining one at that.
PositiveNPR\"[The book is] a complex novel-in-stories, and a very good debut book from a promising new voice in fiction ... Sudbanthad is an elegant writer, but at times, his language gets the better of him — while his writing is mostly well balanced, it occasionally tips into the florid. But when he\'s restrained, he\'s capable of writing some unforgettable passages ... The novel\'s structure is a tricky one, but Sudbanthad pulls it off pretty well — he wisely lets the reader make the connections between the stories, which makes for a rewarding read ... It\'s not a perfect novel, but debut books almost never are. And Sudbanthad proves to be a generous author with a keen eye for unique characters, who expertly evokes a sense of place — his descriptions of Thailand are gorgeous; the reader feels transported there. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is well worth reading. It\'s a strong debut from an intelligent, self-assured author.\
Niviaq Korneliussen Trans. by Anna Halager
RaveNPR\"... startling and beautiful ... Youthful angst is well-worn territory, of course, but nothing about Last Night in Nuuk is trite or overfamiliar. Each character is drawn carefully and with compassion, but Korneliussen refuses to make any of them either flawless angels or irredeemable jerks. They\'re all painfully human, fumbling through their youth and sexualities, all in vastly different ways. And crucially, they all have voices of their own ... Korneliussen... knocks it out of the park. Last Night in Nuuk is a stunning book, at once audacious and honest, sorrowful and triumphant, and Korneliussen seems certain to have a remarkable career ahead of her.\
Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
RaveNPRIt\'s a fascinating story, and Meltzer and Mensch do an excellent job explaining it. Meltzer...brings a propulsive energy to the narrative—it can be difficult to create tension and suspense in a nonfiction book where the reader already knows how the story ends, but the authors do a great job keeping the reader turning the pages. The book is also extremely well-researched. Meltzer and Mensch cite an impressive number of primary sources, including letters from Washington and others, as well as a heroic number of history books. Nothing about the book is phoned in; the amount of research behind it is genuinely remarkable. If there\'s one thing that doesn\'t quite succeed, it\'s Meltzer and Mensch\'s prose, which at times tends toward the breathless ... But that\'s a minor complaint ... The First Conspiracy is an excellent book, enthralling and beyond fascinating, and it\'s sure to delight both fans of thrillers and American history.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
RaveNPR\"... stunning and audacious ... [The books is] at once a pitch-black comedy, a chilling horror story and an endlessly perceptive novel about the possible future of race in America ... There\'s a lot going on in We Cast a Shadow, but Ruffin proves to be a master at juggling the numerous characters and storylines. It\'s a fast-paced and intricately plotted book, but not one that\'s solely reliant on its many plot twists — the real draw of the novel is Ruffin\'s gift at creating unforgettable characters ... Perhaps Ruffin\'s greatest accomplishment is the world he\'s built in his novel — one that\'s alarmingly close to the America of today ... There\'s no doubt that We Cast a Shadow, with its sobering look at race in America, can be difficult to read, but it\'s more than worth it. It\'s a razor-sharp debut from an urgent new voice in fiction, and a warning about what the future could hold for America and for the world.\
Han Kang, Trans. by Deborah Smith
RaveNPR\"... stunningly beautiful writing ... The White Book isn\'t likely to appeal to fans of the traditional novel, but will reward readers with a taste for more unconventional narratives ... Han\'s writing, and the translation by Deborah Smith, is so delicate and gorgeous, it seems a waste of time to try to pigeonhole it into any genre ... The White Book is a novel that\'s difficult to describe, but easy to love. It\'s a delicate book, hard to know, impossible to pin down, but it\'s filled with some of Han\'s best writing to date. And it\'s also one of the smartest reflections on what it means to remember those we\'ve lost.\
Samanta Schweblin, Trans. by Megan McDowell
RaveNPR\"[Schweblin\'s] new short story collection, Mouthful of Birds, is just as ethereal and bizarre as its predecessor, and it proves that Schweblin is a master of elegant and uncanny fiction ... Schweblin is gifted at treating the otherworldly with a matter-of-fact attitude, writing about the surreal as if it were unremarkable ... Schweblin evokes feelings of dread and existential horror in a way that\'s deceptively simple. And her writing, beautifully translated by Megan McDowell, is consistently perfect; she can evoke more feelings in one sentence than many writers can in a whole story ... Mouthful of Birds is a stunning achievement from a writer whose potential is beginning to seem limitless.\
RaveNPR\"... fascinating ... Dorren has an eye for what makes languages stand out from the field ... In the hands of a less gifted author, some of the material in Babel could come across as dry or intimidating. But Dorren (as you might expect) has a way with language, and an arch sense of humor — he aptly describes German, with its many eccentricities, as a \'weirdo\' of a language ... Babel is an endlessly interesting book, and you don\'t have to have any linguistic training to enjoy it. Dorren has a talent for explaining even the most difficult linguistic concepts in a way that\'s easy to understand, and he includes helpful charts at the beginning of each chapter, listing notable facts about the language he\'s about to write about ... But the great thing about Babel is that you don\'t have to agree with Dorren\'s conclusions to enjoy it — it\'s a book that\'s as joyful as it is educational, and above all, it\'s just so much fun to read.\
RaveNPRWildly entertaining ... Tweedy refuses to let himself off the hook—with breathtaking candor, he writes about how his opioid addiction led him to making horrifying decisions ... an intensely charming book, leavened by Tweedy\'s dry, sometimes goofy, sense of humor ... it\'s Tweedy\'s earnestness and bravery...that makes his memoir so unforgettable ... Tweedy\'s music has never shied away from darkness, but he\'s also never been afraid to celebrate joy. The same is true with this remarkable memoir—it\'s a wonderful book, alternately sorrowful and triumphant, and it\'s a gift not just to his fans, but to anyone who cares about American rock music.
RaveNPR\"Enter Mark Dery, the writer and cultural critic, whose fascinating new biography of Gorey, Born to Be Posthumous, paints a near-exhaustive portrait of an author who \'was inscrutable because he didn\'t want to be scruted\' ... But where Dery truly shines is in his analysis of Gorey\'s many books and other works of art. He takes deep dives into even the most minor and forgotten of Gorey\'s literature ... The best biographies are the result of a perfect match between author and subject, and it\'s relatively rare when the two align perfectly. But that\'s the case with Born to Be Posthumous — Dery shares Gorey\'s arch sense of humor, and shows real sympathy for his sui generis outlook and aesthetics. Dery\'s book is smart, exhaustive and an absolute joy to read.\
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.
RaveThe Star TribuneRemarkable, 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.
George Howe Colt
RaveNPR\"... fascinating ... olt\'s book is a transfixing look at a season in the Ivy League that would culminate in one of the most unforgettable matches in college football history ... Colt\'s book is based heavily on interviews with the players involved in the legendary game, and he paints rich portraits of many of them ... Colt dedicates 52 pages to the game itself — and he writes so evocatively and so intensely, it\'s hard to put the book down for even a second. It\'s an absolutely remarkable piece of sportswriting ... There\'s no doubt that football fans will find The Game fascinating — Colt understands the nuances of the sport, and he writes about it with an enthusiasm that never descends into rah-rah fandom. But you don\'t have to be a sports fan to enjoy the book; like Buzz Bissinger\'s Friday Night Lights, its human focus makes it accessible to everyone, even if you don\'t know the difference between a touchback and a touchdown. Vibrant, energetic and beautifully structured, The Game is a big-time winner.\
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.\
RaveNPR\"It seems likely that Evening in Paradise, the beautiful second anthology of Berlin\'s stories, will win over just as many readers as its predecessor. Just like A Manual for Cleaning Women, Berlin\'s new book is a marvel, filled with deeply touching stories about lives on the fringes. It\'s a work of remembrance of the kinds of people who might otherwise be forgotten ... As was the case with A Manual for Cleaning Women, there\'s not a single story in Evening in Paradise that\'s less than beautiful. Berlin had a gift for language, and never limited herself to one style — the stories in her collection are alternately comic and tragic, with the only thing in common being Berlin\'s obvious love for her characters, even the ones who aren\'t conventionally likable ... Evening in Paradise proves that Berlin\'s generous, beautiful spirit will endure in the literary world for decades to come.\
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.\
RaveNPR\"It\'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.
RaveNPR\"The 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
PanNPR\"My 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.
RaveNPR\"Auster\'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.