RavePortland Press Herald... the family at the center of Peaks Islander Eleanor Morse’s rather exquisite fourth novel finds that, even in the far reaches of Maine, it can be hard to hear grace notes above the roar of social turmoil ... With her roving point of view, Morse gives roughly equal time to each member of the household as everyone navigates the years, during which their interests evolve and their characters ossify ... It’s both a hallmark of Margreete’s Harbor and a feat of Morse’s daring that for all that’s going on in the larger world, not that much happens in and around Burnt Harbor. The odd catastrophe is averted. Events on the precipice of occurring—attendance at the March on Washington; a sexual assignation—lose their forward momentum for one reason or another. This gives Margreete’s Harbor its marvelous verisimilitude, although some readers may find it disappointing that the novel’s steady accretion of vignettes don’t add up to a traditional story line. For other readers, it will be enough that Margreete’s Harbor is shaped by the incendiary era that it’s submerged in, its quiet plot points sometimes turning on news items that lead to internal developments as earthshaking as the day’s headlines.
RaveShelf AwarenessIn Everybody (Else) Is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes, Korn comes across as more than just a good guy: she\'s a hero ... Korn writes about her life, both in and out of the office, in a series of smart, nervy essays ... it\'s hard to read Everybody (Else) Is Perfect without seeing Korn as a soldier fighting in the culture war on the side of women\'s empowerment. The nation is better off for her service.
RaveShelf Awarenessa collection of 33 of her incisive and pugnacious essays for the London Review of Books , is a bromide-free zone ... Diski wrote withering social criticism and had an outsize talent for distilling discomforting truths. Readers who are new to Diski\'s work will be awed not just by her die-cut sentences but also by the range of her apparent authority ... She could be a pitiless takedown artist, especially when reviewing books about formidable women who were eclipsed by the men in their lives ... How she managed regularly to self-disclose without toggling over into self-absorption is a secret that she has taken to her lamentably early grave.
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
RaveShelf AwarenessThe pioneering-women-rescued-from-obscurity literary subgenre is beautifully served by the authoritative and absorbing When Women Invented Television. Like all of Armstrong\'s books, it goes down like good TV: although it can be consumed without too much effort, its insights are likely to live on in the reader\'s memory in something not unlike syndication.
PositiveShelf Awareness... whip-smart ... delivers not only the dead body at the weekend gathering but also the howlingly bad weather, the haunting account of long-ago villainy and--what\'s this? Shield your eyes, Miss Marple: there\'s an act of copulation over by the mantelpiece! ... Public sex, drug taking and a sexual abuse subplot are just some of the ways that Before the Ruins departs from the classic country-house mystery, and Gosling doesn\'t signal so much as semaphore her awareness that she\'s playing around with a familiar fictional genre ... This isn\'t to suggest that the book\'s multiple mysteries go unsolved. The one concerning Peter\'s disappearance is so engaging that readers may occasionally wish that Andrea didn\'t tarry so long in the past. If only she had a choice.
PositiveShelf Awareness... not a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but Paraic O\'Donnell\'s sophomore effort is the next best thing ... O\'Donnell brings his story\'s humor and darker themes into richly rewarding alignment ... very good.
RaveShelf Awareness... part music history, part social history and no part minced words ... Robinson is attuned to the different expectations placed on women ... Robinson supplements her interview snippets and blunt opinions with choice autobiographical asides ... She\'s measured about whether, back in the day, she was remiss in not writing about the exploitation of groupies by rock stars, but she\'s unequivocal when the music business disappoints her, as it did when it produced what she clearly sees as the twin evils of Madonna and MTV ... there are many more female rock journalists out there now, although it\'s hard to imagine one as winningly blunt, unpretentious and on-target as Robinson.
RaveShelf Awareness... a marvelously oddball coming-of-age memoir with laughs and a talking hippo ... Markoe the child couldn\'t have known that her diary entries would put in stark relief the way that the unladylike behavior of girls of her generation was all too often discouraged. Readers of We Saw Scenery will probably be nearly as overjoyed as Markoe when, in 1966, her parents drop her off at UC Berkeley, where she finally finds a crowd that wants to hear her jokes.
RaveShelf AwarenessSnow represents the first time that Banville has wrested credit for a mystery novel from his crime-writing alter ego, Benjamin Black, and with good reason: Snow is a beautifully executed, nostalgia-churning throwback that directs the occasional wink at the reader.\
RaveShelf AwarenessFifty-plus books into his career, Mosley hasn\'t run out of inspired plots, and his interest in social issues remains acute, although he editorializes with the lightest of touches; The Awkward Black Man teems with sharp, quippy dialogue and not a sentence suffers the indignity of a frill ... Leave it to a master of the crime novel like Mosley to give several stories a shocking final twist: a happy ending.
RaveShelf Awarenss... blindsidingly beautiful ... Wizenberg is also bracingly candid about the ways that her marriage had been unfulfilling, although sex seems to have had nothing to do with it. For all the wonderful particularity of Wizenberg\'s story—from the Seattle-restaurant-scene backdrop to her calibrated foray into open marriage—The Fixed Stars is essentially a timeless tale: someone finds herself drifting from her spouse and decides to stray ... The Fixed Stars is a guide (of sorts) for a more improvised life, in which recipes are jettisoned and which, Wizenberg is finding, better suits her tastes.
PositiveShelf AwarenessJohn Giorno (1936-2019) writes the following about being at a Ronettes and Shirelles concert with Andy Warhol at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre in 1963: \'By chance, I was smack in the middle of something extraordinary.\' \'Well, when weren\'t you?\' readers may find themselves wondering while devouring Giorno\'s edifyingly dishy book ... Giorno\'s enlightenment winningly suffuses some of his book\'s observations ... This memoir by the late poet and activist is an invaluable time capsule of the New York art scene in the second half of the 20th century.
PositiveShelf Awareness...richly imagined ... the narrative, inflected with aspects of Strauss\'s own family history, is canny, and the writing, while at times overcooked, is neverendingly fresh. The Queen of Tuesday is a capsule of postwar American optimism.
Screen reader support enabled.
...richly imagined ... the narrative, inflected with aspects of Strauss\'s own family history, is canny, and the writing, while at times overcooked, is neverendingly fresh. The Queen of Tuesday is a capsule of postwar American optimism.
RaveShelf AwarenessLooking for Miss America is, in the language of pageantry, lavish in its research, and its prose is sparkling. It is a riveting, multivalent history. About this, if nothing else, most feminists and pageant enthusiasts will agree ... This history of the Miss America pageant is probing, scintillating and tremendously entertaining—a pleaser for feminists and pageant devotees alike.
PositiveShelf AwarenessMitchell remains devoted to examining the U.S.\'s moral defense for its deadly actions against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but he never misses a chance to expose the comedy provided by his book\'s many theatrically outsize characters. Surely Mitchell\'s offering would make a much better movie than MGM\'s big-budget dud.
PositiveShelf AwarenessReaders may consider Merkin\'s novel a fascinating look at human psychology, especially if they are intrigued by the notion of sadomasochism and admire Dr. Freud. As for those who find 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love\'s masochistic protagonist tough to take, they will nevertheless likely appreciate the book\'s vigorous prose and structural intricacy ... A character like Judith probably wouldn\'t have worked if 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love was set in the present day; for some readers (especially those whose tolerance level for certain controlling male behaviors was reset by the #MeToo movement), a character like Judith could never work. But Merkin...knows what she\'s doing and does it well ... [Judith\'s] abject self-deception renders her unexpectedly sympathetic.
J. Courtney Sullivan
PositiveShelf Awareness... readers should jettison any expectation they have for the book--fish-out-of-water story, manipulative-nanny chiller, send-up of campus culture. J. Courtney Sullivan\'s fifth novel offers something more interesting ... Sullivan massages her themes in scenes as barbed as they are funny, by way of characters as infuriating as they are heartbreaking.
Ed. by Annie Finch
PositiveShelf Awareness... a hefty collection of generally high quality ... The anthology\'s contents are confessional, funny, graphic, stolid, absurdist, cagey, heartbreaking, vitriolic and on it goes, the approaches to the subject at hand as varied as human experience.
PositiveShelf AwarenessFor readers of a certain generation, Sunny Days will have a thrilling flashback effect, like a fizzy nostalgia drink, and the book\'s archival photos only enhance the time-tripping experience. For millennial readers, Sunny Days will be both a captivating glimpse at a revolutionary time and a blueprint for what\'s possible with a little seed money, civic-mindedness, feathers and glue.
PositiveShelf Awareness... [a] funny heartbreaker ... The march of time rather than a head-of-steam-developing narrative gives Tran\'s coming-of-age story its forward momentum; Sigh, Gone concludes with his high school graduation ... Phuc Tran, you\'re so amusing.
PositiveShelf AwarenessBeam goes after his subject like an archeologist, digging deep for the names of the companies that supplied the Farnsworth House\'s building materials and exhuming interview subjects who knew the story\'s principals. He sees the comedy within the high drama, the cleverness behind the jabs ... spotlights a timeless concern: whether the artist owes anything beyond the work itself. But it\'s also about something entirely mundane: how even a creative genius and an esteemed doctor are no better than the rest of us at mastering basic communications skills.
PositiveShelf Awareness... eight characters...are all endearing in their disarmingly muddleheaded or abjectly truth-seeking ways ... moments are gasp-worthy ... Straub....belongs in the company of Cathleen Schine, Tom Perrotta and other fiction writers who understand that the degree of humor that can be teased from family drama is often directly proportional to the extent of the family\'s misery.
PositiveShelf AwarenessThree cheers--heck, make that four--for the writer who pulls off a fairly plotless novel. When there\'s not a lot going on, readers need gripping emotional stakes, which means extraordinarily deft characterizations. Naturally, it helps when a protagonist is unusually engaging, smart or sympathetic. In a neat hat trick, Lily King plants all three qualities in Casey Peabody, the narrator of her plot-light but payoff-heavy fifth novel ... Despite Casey\'s habitual teariness, her wit and chirpy optimism carry Writers & Lovers. It\'s not clear why the novel, with its timeless themes--choosing between the practical and the creative life, choosing between (as Casey\'s colleague puts it) \'fireworks and coffee in bed\'--had to be set in 1997, but the book\'s title, with its fulcrum-like ampersand, makes perfect sense.
RaveShelf AwarenessThat the world can be unkind, particularly to women, isn\'t lost on Lily Tuck ... Tuck often writes about women whose prospects are limited by their historical era and choice of mate ... the women of the stellar Heathcliff Redux: A Novella and Stories are vulnerable in ways that the men around them are not ... The women of Heathcliff Redux aren\'t without agency: like their male counterparts, they take drugs, have affairs. But Tuck\'s stories\' power imbalances, especially men\'s surpassing physical strength, keep the writer ever watchful, her sentences stark with circumspection and glistening with clarity ... superb.
RaveShelf AwarenessWhile she always denied rumors of an affair with her friend the screen legend Greta Garbo, Viertel did have a long extramarital liaison--just one aspect of a multifaceted, heroic and outrageously neglected life to which Rifkind does munificent justice ... Rifkind proves with The Sun and Her Stars--her first book and the first English-language biography of Viertel--that she\'s a superlative chronicler of Old Hollywood. Rifkind also demonstrates, through her accounts of various émigré artists\' harrowing escapes from the Nazis, that she\'s a formidable storyteller. The exhaustively researched The Sun and Her Stars, which relies in part on Viertel\'s memoir, among other plum sources, includes nearly 30 black-and-white photos, some of Viertel\'s esteemed émigré friends. \'Without immigrants, there would be no Golden Age of Hollywood,\' writes Rifkind. And without Salka Viertel, Old Hollywood\'s lights would have shone less brightly.
Andrew Grant Jackson
PositiveShelf Awareness... thorough ... Jackson admits that he leaned on unscholarly online sources like Wikipedia for his research, but chapter notes make clear that he also turned to print, and lots of it, especially the featured artists\' memoirs. (Most seem to have written one.) His detective work yields insights into the Bowie-Jagger rivalry-friendship as well as the Bowie-Elton John rivalry (just rivalry, no friendship). Jackson taps into the political and social climates that made way for flag-planting hits like Helen Reddy\'s feminist anthem I Am Woman and Lou Reed\'s tribute to androgyny, Walk on the Wild Side, but he also loops in the present day to make a point ... While 1973 is an invaluable reference work, complete with black-and-white photo insert, reading it like a novel provides one of that literary form\'s great payoffs: empathy with a story\'s characters. What\'s more, skipping around in 1973 could mean missing one of Jackson\'s debatable declarations. For rock purists, these may be fightin\' words, and Jackson should watch his back: upon finishing 1973, some readers may reach for their turntables, needles blazing.
PositiveShelf AwarenessReid, who is black, has an acute understanding of well-meaning white people\'s sometimes squirmy racial sensitivity ... A lesser writer would have taken the book\'s powder-keg material—which does, of course, ultimately explode—and set it off with too-easy satire. The strength of Such a Fun Age lies in Reid\'s even hand with both Emira and Alix, whose points of view switch off fairly regularly throughout the novel. Neither character is archetypal: Emira is levelheaded but frustratingly aimless, and Alix is entitled without being risible—well, until the book\'s end.
Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Kate McCabe
RaveShelf AwarenessIn this apparent golden age of memoir, some stories shine brighter than others. Mighty Justice is one lucent example of the brighter variety ... the product of McCabe\'s decade-long collaboration with Roundtree, who died in 2018 at age 104, no doubt convinced that her work wasn\'t done. The awe-eliciting Mighty Justice makes an airtight case that Roundtree accomplished more than enough.
PositiveShelf AwarenessOwen dutifully metes out the basics about the auditory system, but it\'s Volume Control\'s human-interest angle that enthralls ... Owen offers a heartbreaking riff on how military men and women, whose ears have always taken a beating, are even today given the message from higher-ups that wearing ear protection and complaining of hearing loss are signs of weakness ... Although Volume Control is inevitably cautionary, the book is not a scold. That\'s because Owen\'s curiosity rather than an agenda powers Volume Control.
PositiveShelf AwarenessIt is readers\' good fortune that things didn\'t go smoothly for Bair while writing these first two books; otherwise there would be no Parisian Lives, a fabulous hybrid (Bair dubs it a \'bio-memoir\') containing elements of journalism, autobiography and dish ... When Samuel Beckett was published, some barbed reviews reflected what Bair came to realize was many male critics\' discomfort with the notion of a female writer taking on a serious literary subject. (Fossilized thinking of this sort was a revelation to Bair, giving Parisian Lives yet another aspect: it chronicles her feminist awakening.)
PositiveShelf AwarenessThe Queens of Animation covers the women\'s particular, personal challenges...and their shared trials, especially their male co-workers\' resentment and predatory ways. Among the sketches reproduced in Holt\'s exhaustively researched book is a shattering one by scriptwriting and storyboarding ace Grace Huntington: it shows an outsize Mickey Mouse-like figure preying on a female worker ... The Queens of Animation does double duty as the story of Disney\'s animation studio, which was in debt for years and continually seeking financial relief through new technologies. Holt, foremost a science writer, is awfully good at describing how innovations like Technicolor, the optical printer and xerography work ... Of course, the irony is that in the studio\'s financially unstable golden era, when its male employees thought it beneath them to draw fairies, it was movies about women--a princess here, a Poppins there--that reliably saved Piglet\'s bacon
PositiveShelf Awareness... a robust, many-faceted portrait of a woman whose longstanding feminism (Fisher marched for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1980s) elevated everything she touched ... The question while reading Carrie Fisher isn\'t \'How did her life veer off course?\' but \'How did she keep it together for so long?\' The answer would seem to lie in Fisher\'s mutual emotional support system. Going by the company described in Weller\'s book, it would probably be quicker to list the people who weren\'t Fisher\'s friends than the people who were.
PositiveShelf Awareness... thoroughgoing and invigorating ... Thomas approaches Fashionopolis as both an intrepid investigative reporter and an aesthete ... This trenchant look at how clothes are produced today is both an environmentalist cri de coeur and an homage to good design.
PositiveShelf AwarenessSchine lays all this out with the deliberateness of someone setting a table with the good china. Her 11th novel, which follows note-perfect outings that include The Three Weissmanns of Westport and Fin & Lady, burbles with her customary witty and exacting observations ... Because The Grammarians, which has the tempo of a character study, hasn\'t much by way of plot, it may take several chapters before the reader shares the author\'s conspicuous enchantment with her two protagonists, but it will happen. Neither Wolfe sister may feel that she will ever achieve her dream of landing on exactly the right words, but Schine pretty much finds them all.
PositiveShelf AwarenessIt must be said that, as in Leave It to Beaver, the kids\' dialogue in Summerlings can have a scripted quality ... the book entertainingly eviscerates the rose-colored notion of postwar tranquility. Despite its Howdy Doody, Brillo pad and Hostess cupcake references slathered on sunscreen-thick, Summerlings is really about a regrettably timely subject: the nation\'s enduringly mixed track record when it comes to loving thy neighbor.
PositiveShelf AwarenessAustralian novelist Goldin spent nearly two decades working as a foreign-affairs journalist but seems to know the corporate world cold, from its Ferragamo suits to the number of figures in a Wall Streeter\'s sign-on bonus. Her American debut is a shrewd, brilliantly structured thriller doubling as a takedown of corporate culture. While the four elevator captives initially appear to be types, especially philanderer Sam with his shopaholic wife, Goldin lavishes time on their stories, ultimately making them, if not entirely sympathetic, more than a quartet of Gordon Gekkos.
PositivePortland Press HeraldRowley...gets Jackie exactly right: She has all the expected savoir faire (she keeps supplies for making daiquiris in her office) but doesn’t present as a caricature. This introduces a wee problem: Jackie is so charismatic in The Editor that we miss her when she’s not in a scene, and the rueful Aileen just can’t pick up the slack. Fortunately, it’s a pleasure to be in narrator James’s constant company; his ready self-deprecation and congenial persnicketiness...are winning ... James’s crisis with his boyfriend feels manufactured, and there’s a bit too much talk of \'healing\' ... \'SHOW, DON’T TELL!\' Jackie might have written in the margins. Still, there’s something marvelously authentic-seeming about James’s and Jackie’s conversations, especially when they touch on commonalities among mothers of a certain generation—even mothers as different as Jackie and Aileen.
PositiveThe Portland Press HeraldRusso admirers can rest assured that Chances Are provides the satisfactions of the novels for which he’s best known. There’s the classic Russo tussle between small-town serenity and his characters’ disequilibrium, dialogue so effortless-seeming that it’s easy to overlook the skill that went into chiseling it, and the long-suppressed disclosures and hard-won revelations of getting-on-in-years male protagonists.
PositiveShelf AwarenessIn the thoroughgoing Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren, Colin Asher sculpts the writer\'s checkered life story into something that would have pleased him: a ripping good tale ... [a] consummate biography.
PositivePortland Press HeraldWith Freefall, Barry, a pseudonym for a former publishing industry insider who now lives in Maine, delivers an assured thriller with a crafty structure. Although the novel leaves a couple of matters unresolved, and Allison’s behavior occasionally seems to reflect not a plausible course of action but narrative necessity, readers will gladly surrender to the crusty, unflagging Maggie and see her through her ordeal. Personality-wise, she has less in common with Jessica Fletcher than with fellow fictional Maine widow of a certain age Dolores Claiborne, who would have at least pretended to appreciate the promenade of condolence casseroles that Maggie Carpenter receives from neighbors and later dumps in the trash.
MixedShelf Awareness\"While Chalk suffers somewhat from the \'personal\'—Rivkin\'s self-references can feel intrusive—the book\'s \'stranger\' aspect (sentence fragments, patchy chronology, poetry excerpts) creates a singular reading experience.\