RaveThe ObserverThe novel often feels more like dystopian fiction than a gothic ghost story ... Moving, and convincing because it knows that no one needs to possess America to force it to do evil. And it also knows that real evil is a lot worse than the classics would have us believe.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesDelightfully gimmicky ... Deft ... In McElroy’s world everyone is confusingly, painfully, triumphantly someone else.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesA brisk, punchy read ... A strange, disorienting puzzle; a mocking eulogy; a bitter, self-lacerating exercise in what one character calls \"vivid ideation\"; a long look into a sinkhole of grief.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesYou might think the array of forms would give you a more kaleidoscopic view of the author’s history, relationships and life. But instead, the different modes tend to cancel one another out or interfere with one another, leaving the reader only more aware of gaps and erasures ... The eventual explanations for Jodie’s actions don’t completely coalesce ... Jodie is more a cipher than a character, and it’s hard to create an emotionally meaningful relationship with a cipher. The lack of affect is at least somewhat intentional ... This hybrid medium is uniquely suited to exploring the hybrid nature of identity.
RaveThe ObserverLevy quietly but insistently acknowledges queer possibilities ... On the surface, August Blue is in the gothic tradition ... This is very much a literary novel; there’s not a lot of violence, not a lot of suspense, not a lot of plot demanding you turn to the next page and the next. August Blue is a short book that meanders, following itself across Europe, across memory, across a cosmopolitan landscape of identity and desire. Hate and paranoia are propulsive; acceptance and love move, in general, at a slower pace. Levy encourages you to savor the slowness.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesIn retrospect, Veniss is the relatively conventional, larval VanderMeer, before his metamorphosis into a truly bizarre, cancerous butterfly creature. This isn’t to say his debut is drab or boring ... Even at this early stage, VanderMeer’s imagination was a fertile birthing place for ugly, fleshy, oozing oddities, and he had a gift for filling in just enough of the world to make you feel like there was something even worse just around a corner you couldn’t see. In later VanderMeer, though, the author is more willing to acknowledge that the thing around the corner is maybe a thing you want to see. In this early effort, the weirdness is still framed as a conventional antagonist ... An enjoyable, thoughtful novel with a new weird idea on every page.
Bora Chung, trans. by Anton Hur
PositiveLos Angeles TimesThe narratives here shamble and ooze across a porous divide between highbrow absurdism and lowbrow jump scare. The balance changes from story to story, and sometimes the genre conventions feel too pat, as genre conventions will. But the more predictable moments set you up to miss a crucial step and fall right into the abyss when Chung gets weird ... Chung uses [the same] trick in half of the 10 selections here — enough that it ceases to be a shock and starts feeling like an irritant or a cop-out. Rather than disorienting you, the last-minute flip of narrative reality becomes so expected it’s almost comforting ... The expected conclusion has its pleasures. But Chung’s writing is stronger when she leans toward literary fiction’s more open forms and pursues odder ends ... Cursed Bunny at its best sets out across the rubble to find new ground.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times... groundbreaking ... a road-trip novel that refuses to go anywhere, in which people aren’t locked into linear narratives. Life stories pool in stasis or loop around on themselves. The challenge for Binnie’s characters is to be in the moment, not to reach some foreordained gendered goal ... The narrative doesn’t resolve; neither the past nor the future is fixed. But Binnie’s love of her characters, of their confusion, of their insights and of their language produces its own catharsis of sorts ... Here and now, the novel makes as much sense (if not more) as it did nine years ago when it was first published. In the middle of a trans panic, with transphobes demanding that love, work, achievement and gender all follow the same cis narrative timetable, Nevada steals a car, walks off the job and drives someplace else.
MixedThe Los Angeles Times... so busy exploring the tunnels and byways in his great pile of Marvel comics that he sometimes forgets other genres and ideas exist ... Before delving into those limitations, it’s worth acknowledging what is both a useful document and a worthy folly. Wolf has embarked on a fun stunt and written a fun book. He doesn’t try to start at the beginning and explain everything. Instead, he picks up strands here and there, using each chapter to pick up particular characters or series or issues and explain how a knowledge of the whole can enrich an understanding of the parts. The result is less a grand narrative than a hodgepodge of entertaining listicles — and a buyer’s guide ... largely a newbies’ guide ... The problem is that Wolk doesn’t just praise individual comics or series. He insists that the entire edifice of Marvel publishing is a singular aesthetic triumph ... his context is Marvel and only Marvel. His stance might be provocative if Marvel were a niche interest, a fresh lens through which to view culture or society ... It doesn’t help that Wolk’s evidence for the unique vastness of the oeuvre is not especially persuasive ... We are already just about buried in all of the marvels. Wolk’s solution is to praise the mountain that buries us. If you are looking for help in clawing your way to the surface, you’ll need to read something else.
Stephen Graham Jones
MixedThe Los Angeles Times... the apocalypse is so inevitable, and so obviously Jade’s wish fulfillment, that it lacks a certain conviction. With perhaps one or two exceptions, Jade doesn’t actually want to see everyone die. But more than that, all the references to fictional slasher bloodbaths can’t help but remind readers that this slasher bloodbath is, well, fictional. In real life, Jade can’t drown her tormentors in the lake. She can’t summon Jason from the depths to smite the iniquitous. The whole book has been telling you, over and over, that the moral order of a slasher is just a compensating story Jade tells herself. As a result, the novel feels more metafictional than real ... Jason isn’t there killing anyone. But Dad is, and maybe sometimes he does. Jones’ accomplishment lies in showing that that’s what slashers were saying all along.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... seems at first to fit into that tradition of gravid terror. But instead of recoiling like Geena Davis, the novel turns back on itself with a growl, biting down on its own flank ... a novel about bringing itself into being. The messy art the mother imagines about moms and rage and smashing stuff is the book itself.
Ta-wei Chi tr. Ari Larissa Heinrich
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThere’s something very timely about its play with gender fluidity and the social construction of identity. There’s also something timeless about Chi’s future, because of how it bends and defies time itself. The novel is about how identity is a story we tell ourselves through time — or back through time. And that story, for Chi, is queer ... The Membranes doesn’t have a plot so much as a complicated schematic ... a playful book and a sad one too. It seems to have predicted our cultural moment, a time when identity is being constantly evaluated and reconstituted, far better than it did our technology. English readers who finish it now, 25 years after it was first published, may regret finding it so late, and missing out on all the stories and selves we could have been, even as it seems like it’s been here the whole time. A new story is a new skin; Momo makes you ask who or when you’ll be once you finish this one.
RaveLos Angeles Times[VanderMeer] uses spy fiction to show how spy fiction can’t help us when the sky falls in. Or heats up ... Like your favorite Hollywood blockbuster, Hummingbird Salamander features ecoterrorists, evil corporations, a race to defuse doomsday weapons, gunfire, fisticuffs, action sequences and hair-raising escapes ... like Ling Ma and Holroyde, VanderMeer introduces all this genre fun mostly to subvert it ... part of what the novel is doing is showing how humans are connected to the rest of nature even when we’d rather not think about it. The planet on which Jane gets her coffee from some barista is the same in which the last hummingbird dies in a dwindling forest ... The secret interconnections of the spy novel map onto the secret interconnections of the natural world. And the unfurling plot mirrors the unraveling ecosystem ... the book’s redemption isn’t imaginable in the terms of a pulp spy novel. VanderMeer and some of his peers struggle with genre because they understand that the ecological crisis is also a narrative crisis. When all you have are the old stories, how can you speak a new ending?
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... a strange, lyrically repulsive variation on Wells’ mirrored colonial vision ... an unexpected and surprisingly meditative apocalypse of Cronenbergian body horror ... Whiteley suggests an alternative to narratives of conquest, extermination, genocide and nausea. There can be a blending in which different peoples flow together and change one another until they’re neither conqueror nor conquered — a new birth, rising from the primordial soup of cross-cultural intercourse ... the novel is full of gleeful reversals, and you can hear the distant sound of infectious giggling echoing through the lovely prose. Rarely has a writer who is not Philip K. Dick had so much fun building a world only to take it apart ... There is some comfort in knowing that what you find in Skyward Inn is simply what you bring there, the heady, quaffable brew of flesh and self that makes you alien and human, both at once. Whiteley spits in the mug, and you drink it down together.
PositiveThe ObservorAfter introducing Ben and Amy, Holroyde wanders away from them with a leisurely pace that belies the comet countdown. She provides the background and viewpoint of other people working on the Effort, particularly Love Mwangi, an East African-American translator who speaks dozens of languages. One of the main characters, Zhen, a quiet female Chinese scientist and math genius with facial scars and a hidden talent for defying authority, doesn’t show up till more than half-way through the book ... Despite such stresses and reversals, The Effort, in the tradition of science fiction novels past, manages to sweep aside national, sectarian, and governmental boundaries to at least offer a glimmer of hope. It serves as a small, miraculous contrast to a world which, for the most part, simply folds its wings like that eagle and sinks when threatened with space debris, or with its own consumption patterns—or with a virus that Holroyde couldn’t have known about when she wrote the novel. Do we die with a bang, with a whimper, or both? Or do we find some way to live? The Effort suggests maybe all three at once. But Holroyde is aware that her novel is a story; her ending isn’t the real ending. That we’ll need to find for ourselves, one way or the other.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesPeters often aims her barbs at transgender people like her ... Peters doesn’t just eviscerate, though; she also eviscerates the impulse to eviscerate ... The novel’s ending could be construed as a cop-out. And yet the denial of closure functions as a note-perfect withholding of moral clarity. Reese, Ames and Katrina can’t be slotted into a typical happy ever after nor into its opposite ... that rare social comedy in which the author cuts people up not to judge them, but to show how we fail to fit together.
Robert Jones Jr
RaveThe ObserverThe Prophets chronicles much cruelty and misery and violence, as is inevitable in a book about slavery. But it’s not really a pessimistic book. Rather, the novel itself functions as an act of love and resistance, by expressing solidarity with those who love despite sanctions and oppression. Patriarchy and white supremacy insist on rigid roles for Black and white, male and female. The Prophets imagines a different past, and a different future.
PositiveThe ObservorHis new autobiography, A Promised Land , chronicles his ascension from private citizen to national figure, and is, as you’d expect, a much less personal and much more guarded book than its predecessor. That’s a loss to readers. But it’s also a quiet reminder of the virtues of restraint that Obama brought to the presidency, and which his successor lacks ... Obama’s prose is always graceful and distinctive, and his character sketches can draw blood. A description of Lindsey Graham as the guy in the spy thriller \'who double-crosses everyone to save his own skin\' has already gone viral ... These moments of self-reflection and self-revelation, though, are not the story of the book, which devotes most of its 700 pages not to internal exploration, but to the chronicling of public events. At times A Pomised Land reads a bit like an acceptance speech, as Obama devotes brief, laudatory character sketches to everyone who influenced him or helped him in his rise to success, from his beloved grandmother, to Iowa field operatives, to members of his Secret Service detail, to political allies like Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy, to foreign leaders like Angela Merkel, to cabinet appointees, to his White House butler ... Obama notes several times in the memoir that as president he often felt more constrained in what he could say—less able to speak out against human rights violations in foreign countries for example—than he did as a private citizen. He’s retired now, but he’s still a political actor and a political leader. So he continues to choose his words with care by using his platform to pay debts to allies, burnish his legacy, and advance the cause as he sees it. His caution results in a worse memoir. But it may be part of creating a better polity.
PositiveThe ObservorA Promised Land, chronicles [Obama\'s]ascension from private citizen to national figure, and is, as you’d expect, a much less personal and much more guarded book than its predecessor. That’s a loss to readers. But it’s also a quiet reminder of the virtues of restraint that Obama brought to the presidency, and which his successor lacks ... This isn’t to say that A Promised Land is as dry, or as formulaic, as standard political biographies. Obama’s prose is always graceful and distinctive, and his character sketches can draw blood ... Nor does Obama shy away from disarmingly frank assessments of his own failures and shortcomings ... These moments of self-reflection and self-revelation, though, are not the story of the book, which devotes most of its 700 pages not to internal exploration, but to the chronicling of public events ... There is also, inevitably, a good bit of justification. The book is in part meant to secure and explain Obama’s legacy ... he continues to choose his words with care by using his platform to pay debts to allies, burnish his legacy, and advance the cause as he sees it. His caution results in a worse memoir. But it may be part of creating a better polity.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... a work of literary fiction that associates itself with the science fiction subculture by launching a carefully planned assault on the science fiction pop-culture juggernaut. In doing so, the book provides a quietly lyrical alternative to the uberviolence and cliché blustering of Hollywood plots. But it also, somewhat inadvertently, shows the limitations of a science fiction that sees a mass audience as a threat to the future and the present ... The Arrest is a (very self-aware) post apocalyptic novel, set on a near future earth in which most technology has simply stopped working, for reasons that are never explained ... Lethem’s frankly elitist portrayal of Todbaum as an opiate-belching danger to the public is (perhaps paradoxically) thoroughly entertaining and invigorating; he’s almost movie-sized enough to be a supervillain. In contrast to this semi-pulp pleasure, the way the organic farmers handle the threat Todbaum represents is remarkably thoughtful, in every sense. Lethem’s low-key invention makes good on the implicit promise of the novel, and of subcultural SF, to get rid of what the novel calls \'old stories.\' In its small way, it is in fact a new narrative—one Hollywood hasn’t yet colonized ... Dispensing with Hollywood’s bloated universality also makes it difficult for Lethem to address real-world large-scale problems. A story about technology fizzling out set on an organic farm seems like an ecological critique waiting to happen. But the novel barely mentions global warming or water pollution or any other environmental issue ... It’s a pleasant and compelling vision. But there’s also something true in those Hollywood monstrosities that insist we’re all trapped in the same universe, and that any salvation has to be big, and come for everyone at once.
RaveLos Angeles TimesSusie Yang’s wonderful debut novel, White Ivy, is literary fiction rather than category romance, but the author uses romance the way Jonathan Lethem or Ling Ma use science fiction and horror: as inspiration, as a theme ripe for variation, as a counterpart to argue with and as a lover to court. White Ivy\'s final, bleak wedding isn’t so much a parody of romance as an embrace of its sublimated, hidden darknesses — dappled, as Yang writes, \'like a sunlit path lined with flowers and green things\' ... The genius of White Ivy is that each plot point of the romance is fulfilled but also undercut by a traumatic pratfall, described in language as bright and scarring as a wound ... White Ivy is in many ways a cold, clinical book. Yang puts Ivy on the operating table and exposes her weaknesses, her foolishness, her self-loathing and her broken emotional and moral compass. But just as romance has to understand the potential for sadness, the resolutely anti-romantic Yang knows you need a dollop of romance if you want to break your readers’ hearts.
RaveOBSERVERIn her new novel, Piranesi, Clarke is still working with fantasy literature, but here she crosses it with postmodern magical realism—Borges, Calvino and Marquez go through the Narnian wardrobe this time, rather than Austen, Trollope and Dickens. The result is substantially shorter, and perhaps less accessible. In terms of invention and beauty, though, it’s a fitting heir to Clarke’s first book ... Piranesi is in the House, as you are in the book, and he wanders through it to learn his own identity just as you do. Clarke deftly weaves together highbrow and lowbrow so Piranesi as reader is both symbol and story. To read Piranesi is to be the labyrinth and the traveler in the labyrinth, which is poetry and prose ... Piranesi is a gentle man, and a gentle book. It wants to leave doors open for its characters and its readers ... Piranesi is a novel to revisit—a house you can open again, with statues touched by quiet thoughts and strange tides.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times...basically a gender-flipped Robert Ludlum novel ... Meyer’s sympathy for femininity, and for passivity, is part of what many critics hate about the Twilight books. But it gives her an unusual ability to turn genres inside out ... Spy fans can be assured that in most respects, The Chemist functions in much the same way as a Bourne or Bond story, complete with mounting body count, cool explosions, stakeouts and betrayals. But changing the proportion of gender in the genre gives the concoction a renewed, and welcome, rush.
PanThe Los Angeles TimesCrosstalk is a mess. It’s a frustrating read that spins futilely through its 512 pages desperately looking for interesting characters or engaging narrative drive. But, as with the medical procedure at the center of the novel, it fails in interesting ways ... Briddey and C.B. never have time to come into focus. On the contrary, Briddey's most vivid character trait is her beleaguered distraction ... In Crosstalk, romance and paranoia keep interrupting each other, until you're left with a burble of irritating, disconnected voices and a nagging desire to silence them by closing the book.