PositiveThe Seattle Review of Books\"Like Thompson, I couldn’t look away either. The book held my attention and kept me in a perpetual state of eagerness to find out what happened next ... Thompson is not an idiot; I’m sure he expected some readers to raise their hackles at Leo and Sean’s misadventures. But that gives him more reason to write Kickflip Boys, not less. Parenting is an art, not a science, and the honesty he brings to the narrative is commendable. It’s brave for a family to open themselves up to the public like this, and that vulnerability should be recognized. Because of Thompson’s humility and accessibility, any parent could find something to learn in these pages ... Thompson tells a compelling story with vivid language, bracing honesty, and sincere soul-searching.\
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksEvison is pointing, angrily, at the class divide in America and demanding that we recognize it. Living as we do in a city where the homeless live in tents next to opulent wealth and everyone tries as hard as they can to ignore the situation, maybe some anger is necessary, even welcome ... This isn’t a martyr’s tale, and Mike is not Poverty Jesus. As we follow Mike through Lawn Boy, we watch him make decisions that are clearly dumb. We watch him tolerate homophobia and misogyny without taking a stand. He knows better, but he falls for scams and self-delusion again and again. He’s not a hero, he’s just a young man who is trying to do the right thing, the same as any other. The difference between Mike and, say, Holden Caulfield is that Mike doesn’t have the safety net of wealth and privilege to fall back on. I whipped through Lawn Boy, and I loved every second of it.
James B Comey
PanThe Seattle Review of BooksAs it is, A Higher Loyalty is a readable but dumb book, lacking any of the introspection or contrition that Comey needed to bring to the project. Instead, the author puffs himself up again and again ... That idea of greatness seems to be the yardstick by which he measures a life well-lived. But I don’t know if Comey ever fully defines what it means to be a \'great man.\' When he refers to a person’s greatness, is he talking about a moral person - someone who makes the right decision, no matter the personal cost? Or is he just talking about someone who history remembers long after they’re gone - someone who has lived an extraordinary life? I honestly can’t tell ... Yes, Loyalty’s last third is heavy with juicy, dramatic accounts of Comey’s interactions with Trump. And yes, the accounts are entertaining, and if you have a dim view of Donald Trump you will likely find them to be pleasantly confirmatory. But is this book useful? Does it do anything worthwhile besides earn Comey a mountain of royalties? I would argue that it is not, and that the timing of its release serves absolutely no one but James Comey
David Cay Johnston
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksWhat Worse does is essential — it tracks the actual policies of the Trump administration and tallies the cost of those policies to date. It holds Trump accountable for all his lies. It looks at everything that has happened, and lays it out in plain English ... I hope Johnston will publish a book every January, so that those marching in the streets can remember everything that has been done to their country, and so that those who eventually vote Trump out of office can figure out how to restore or replace all the damage that his administration has done to the country.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksFu’s writing is beautiful and surprising, with images that leave a mark ... Forevermore is the first truly great novel I’ve read in 2018 ... Like the best fiction, Forevermore makes readers wonder what we would do in a similar situation, and it doesn’t provide any comforting answers.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksFrom the very first page, I was enraptured by Young’s voice and ingenuity ... Young is a canny enough observer to tell the story of his own obliteration. When he explains how he was browbeaten into military conformity, he is at once the subject of the stories - the one who is no longer individual - and the commentator on the stories - the individual addressing the reader. It’s a kind of literary magic trick, a multiple personality disorder of narration, and it works beautifully ... Eat the Apple perfectly captures that dichotomy of the American military - to protect individual freedoms, we must destroy our own individual freedoms - in beautiful, hilarious, horrifying prose.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BookThese voices in Freshwater - the chorus of personalities - should feel familiar to anyone who spends a lot of time lost in books. What is reading, but inviting another voice to take up residence in your head? Emezi’s voice is hypnotic and powerful and imaginative, leaving the reader unsure of what in the story is real and what is not. Freshwater at times feels a little too unmoored from reality. Some scenes lack a sense of place or a narrative thrust. In those parts of the book, the reader is left floating in a sea of language which sounds pretty, but which doesn’t seem to be actively describing anything. But then something vivid and clear happens - Asughara turns the tables on another domineering man with her unbridled sexuality, say - and Emezi’s prose calls the reader to attention. Freshwater embeds you deep into Ada’s mind, demanding that you feel what this young woman feels, that you see the world the way she does. It is not an easy experience; it’s a story of trauma and violence and heartbreak. But it’s also a story of survival and strength and of coming to terms with what it means to survive.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksAt times, it seems as though Oluo is biologically incapable of writing a dishonest word. She speaks the truth, clearly and repeatedly. She doesn’t suffer fools. She speaks against injustice as often as she needs to, and the world is a very unjust place ... The book is conversational and Oluo is a disarming host. Rather than open her conversation of privilege with a host of bad examples, for instance, Oluo dissects all the privilege in her life that has led to her publishing her first book. The word that comes to mind, again, is 'generous.' By the time Oluo has moved into the most controversial topics of our time - police brutality, cultural appropriation, so-called 'callout culture' - she has disarmed all but the most hateful readers. Race is exactly what she promised the book to be - a conversation, one that draws in a reader and engages their ideas with a thorough and loving series of questions.
Chandler Klang Smith
PositiveThe Seattle Review of BooksEvery sentence - every improbable concept that Klang Smith throws into this giant, sloppy stew of a book - examines that thesis, and bolsters it, and broadcasts it. All that everything, it turns out, is there for a reason.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesAt its best moments, Mokha reads like one of those obsessive journalistic explorations of a quotidian object—think John McPhee's grand Oranges or Mark Kurlansky's brilliant Cod or Salt ... The final third of Mokha is concerned with the procurement and delivery of Alkhanshali's first crop — a shipment of tons of beans — through a Yemen choked with civil war and battered by Saudi missile strikes. It's a cracking tale of intrigue and bravery and more than a little bit of luck ... He is by no means impartial; Alkhanshali is his friend, and the book is a celebration of that friendship. Eggers excels when he brings his sweeping novelist's scope to the issues that matter most to him — income inequality, the spoils of colonialization — and he stumbles when Alkhanshali's tale demands a more impartial witness. But really, every biography is a kind of love story between the author and their subject. And if Eggers leans a bit too heavily on the over-earnest mythologization of an American citizen with deep Yemeni roots during the disastrous Trump presidency, who — really — could blame him?
Anca L. Szilágyi
RaveThe Seattle Review of Books...as gritty as Daughters gets — and this is a book that spends a lot of time in the gutter — it never entirely shakes off an aura of myth and magic. Szilágyi bombards Pluta with the echoes of ancient weirdness. The Orpheus myth is evoked a few times, for instance, and mermaids and angels are mentioned repeatedly throughout the book. But this fairy tale angle is not overdone — this isn’t yet another one-to-one retelling of some stale story that Walt Disney has already bludgeoned to death in a multiplex near you. Instead, Szilágyi dusts the real world with just enough magic to surprise the reader ... Daughters is a confident and finely wrought novel. Szilágyi is at equally at home writing about Argentina’s complex historical conflict and the glittering garbage heaps of Brooklyn. She focuses unflinchingly on the violence we deliver on each other, and the mental scars that violence leaves behind ... She’s a remarkable fictional creation, a character who will take up residence in your head and barge on into your conversations for weeks to come.
PositiveThe Seattle Review of BooksThat first chapter, ‘Biden Family Thanksgiving,’ is the best of Promise. Detailing Biden’s family ritual of heading to Nantucket for the holidays, ‘Thanksgiving’ is a tender and teary-eyed reminiscence of the tradition, tracking the growth of Biden’s family from a small nuclear unit to a large extended clan of adult children and vivacious young grandchildren … As an emotionally compelling political memoir, Promise has very little competition. The portions dealing with Biden’s feelings of helplessness and his grief and his sorrow are tremendously affecting. Several of the passages read by Biden brought me to tears … The political chapters of Promise read like the modern variety of political memoirs, which is to say that they’re safe and inoffensive and shamelessly self-laudatory... The real question that Promises silently asks: Should Joe Biden run for president in 2020?
PanThe Seattle Review of BooksHodgman indulges in something I’ll call hipster privilege. Here’s what I mean: whenever he’s given the opportunity, Hodgman will make a self-deprecating joke about being white, or wealthy, or famous — or all three of those things … Your jokes about being in the wealthy upper class of a society don’t make you one of ‘the good ones.’ They just make you one of the ones who are willing to make jokes about it … Hodgman is self-deprecating throughout the book, and many of his jokes are successful. But it’s when the joke is at the expense of those who have less than him — when his self-deprecation disguises the fact that he’s punching down — that his attempts at comedy fail.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
MixedThe Seattle Review of Books...Hillary Clinton is also the recipient of a very particular brand of hatred from certain men: she is the rare author who will inspire conservatives to go turn her books upside down on the shelves in a sad little act of rebellion ... Clinton is at her best in What Happened when she talks about the loathing that some men lavish upon powerful women ... The fact is, you will leave What Happened with the same opinions you bring into What Happened. Whatever your opinion was of Clinton at this time last year, that will be your opinion after reading...book’s structure is at best confusing, at worst a mishmash of ideas in no particular order ...an accurate representation of reality. Clinton has no better idea of what happened than you or I. She’s piecing it together, figuring it out in public.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksYes, Chicago writer Jac Jemc’s new book, The Grip of It, is another haunted house novel. And it does contain most of the tropes of the genre: a young couple, Julie and James, moves into a house with a questionable history ...a fantastic — and genuinely scary — play on a story that’s been repeated to the point of devaluation ...besides its excellent title, which furthers any number of potential theories about the true nature of the haunting in the book — is Jemc’s blunt prose, which works best in her short-but-twisty sentences ...has fangs and talons. It sinks into your skin, and the pain changes the way you view everything around you.
PositiveThe Seattle Review of Books...a dystopian novel that remixes several pre-existing gimmicks into one … Melamed, a nurse practitioner whose bio identifies her chosen field as ‘working with traumatized children,’ is using her dystopia to speak out on behalf of abused girls, and she does it masterfully. The protagonists of Daughters are all young women and girls. They’re subject to the whims of the men in power … Daughters is worth reading for the perspective that Melamed delivers to the genre. I’ve never before read a dystopian fiction that was an extended analogy for an abusive relationship, and the analogy works quite well.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksPriestdaddy doesn’t have a narrative, exactly. The force that pushes it forward is Lockwood’s surprising language, and her detective’s ability to spot a single small damning clue in a room full of distractions. It’s a book where the author keeps you company, confiding in you and entertaining you and making you feel like the best listener in the history of ears ... Lockwood coaxed me into sobs for the lost life of a man who I never met, and then the last lines of Priestdaddy found me crying again for all the tragedies yet to happen in this terminal condition we call life.
PositiveThe Seattle Review of BooksFrankel portrays a family with a trans daughter with dignity and warmth and generosity. In an age where trans bathroom panic leads some Republican men to 'patrol' their local Targets with guns in order to allegedly keep their daughters safe from nonexistent sexual predators, Frankel patiently and calmly tells a story about a very specific experience ... Kids are cruel, and one scene beautifully delivers the menace of violence without crossing over into something too scary or melodramatic. But Frankel clearly loves her characters, and is rooting for them to succeed. That gives the book a charm that makes it very hard to put down ... This is a book you could easily give as a gift to someone further toward the right of the political spectrum of you; it’s a novel of great empathy and compassion that transcends politics. Always does have a few unfortunate failings. The last third of the book loses its forward momentum a bit, with a long trip to a distant land that feels forced for purposes of plot. And though the book is in large part set in Seattle, Frankel doesn’t really sketch out the locations with any vividness or veracity. But these failures of location are more than matched, and surpassed, by Frankel’s gift for building characters.
PositiveThe Seattle Review of BooksThis gear-shift, from the gawking exploitation of true crime to the more introspective exploration of memoir, is a transition that could likely lose some readers. That’s their loss. Spider is not Francois’s story. It’s about Rowe, and how she responds to Francois’s monstrous acts ... True crime buffs might be frustrated by Spider’s unwillingness to tie everything together, to slap a moralistic Law & Order-style framework on the story. But readers who are interested in deeper conversations than a childlike fantasia of good versus evil will find sentences of this book echoing around in their brain for weeks afterward ... Spider is a messy, complicated book about a messy, complicated human. It’s about finding yourself inextricably bound in a situation that you never wanted. But most of all, it’s about the terrifying notion that when you scratch enough of yourself down on paper and throw it into the void, the void might just decide to write back.
MixedThe Seattle Review of BooksUnfortunately, it reads like a book that was written in weeks. The first half of Our Revolution begins promisingly enough, with the fascinating story of Sanders’s political life ... But the account of his presidential campaign is slapdash and poorly organized, and it carries none of the drama that his followers felt so passionately ... By the time the first half of the book draws to a close, all but the most avid Sanders fans will surely consider skimming ... Thankfully, the second half of the book, in which Sanders outlines policy prescriptions, is exactly what Democrats need to read right now ... Sanders is the only high-profile Democrat with a clear vision for what must be done, and that’s what makes Our Revolution so important.
MixedThe Seattle Review of BooksDifferent [is] interesting in a prickly way. Just because Eleanor is almost obsessively introverted and ridiculously wealthy doesn’t mean she’s not worthy of our sympathy, but it does make that sympathy more difficult to muster ... It’s crueler than Bernadette, but possibly funnier. But it’s also, frankly, kind of a mess ... The central plot about a marital misunderstanding at times feels cheesy and comes to a problematic conclusion ... The book builds to a conclusion that will break unsuspecting readers in half with its raw humanity and aching need.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksHis writing is clean and clear, his research is impeccable, and his conclusions are always groundbreaking but he always presents them in such a way that they feel, retroactively, like something you’ve understood for a long time ... while time travel is a fun toy to play around with, it doesn’t generally withstand a deep investigation. But the quality of Gleick’s work elevates Time Travel into something no less fascinating, and no less mind-altering, than his other books.
PositiveThe Seattle Review of BooksShawl has trimmed an epic that could span multiple volumes into less than 400 pages. And that economy comes at a price: aside from the ostensible protagonist, a woman named Lisette Toutournier who is loosely based on the French novelist Colette, many of the other characters lack complexity ... the depth of care and consideration that she has put into this world cannot be overpraised. Too, the amount of life in this book is overwhelming.
Michael Kranish & Marc Fisher
PositiveThe Seattle Review of BooksAs far as these biographies go, many of which are rushed and poorly written, Trump Revealed is excellent. Fisher and Kranish had plenty of access to Trump for interviews, and their research seems extensive ... And though the book certainly confirmed many of my suspicions about Trump’s biography, it didn’t answer my questions of why. Why is Trump the way he is? Why doesn’t he act like a normal human being? Why is he so obsessed with what other people think of him? This isn’t a knock on Fisher and Kranish’s work; these sorts of topical presidential campaign biographies don’t dig into a figure’s brain. Motivation is generally left to the historians.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksEverything you’ve heard about Whitehead’s latest novel, The Underground Railroad, is true: it is a masterpiece, and it is his best book, and it might be the best American novel of the year.
MixedThe Seattle Review of BooksBrightfellow is one of those novels that never lets you forget you’re reading a novel. Ducornet’s language is highly literary and obviously artificial; Stub’s voice bears no real resemblance to ordinary speech patterns. He is just words on a page, and he seems to know it ... The book is full of ferocious little linguistic jabs like that; you’ll see a word roaming far from its typical linguistic grazing fields, and you’ll stare at it for a while, trying to make sense of it all. Ducornet is a mad maestro of words.
PositiveThe Seattle Review of Books[Hot Dog Taste Test is] a collection of disparate styles: lists, traditional comics, essays with spot illustrations, and beautiful weird landscapes featuring mysterious bird-headed people. Aside from Kate Beaton and Michael Kupperman, Hanawalt is one of the few cartoonists who can reliably make me laugh out loud ... Some of the best pieces in Hot Dog are outright journalism, particularly essays where Hanawalt spends the afternoon with deconstructionalist chef Wylie Dufresne and samples the different high-end all-you-can-eat buffets in Las Vegas. Other meditations on public bathrooms seem strangely apt in a book that is primarily interested in food ... urgent, compelling, energetic.
Jean Edward Smith
MixedThe Seattle Review of BooksThe first sentence of Bush, Jean Edward Smith’s biography of George W. Bush, obliterates any pretense of objectivity... Let’s be clear: Bush is not a smear campaign. Nor is it a work of partisan hackery. Rather than wasting our time with a politically charged blooper reel of the worst presidency of our lifetime, Smith instead has created a dense and fastidiously researched biography that litigates Smith’s point ... It’s like a documentary that clings too close to its subject, forcing everyone else out to the edges of the screen and dissolving context into nothingness ...despite all its detail and research, still feels like a tiny-but-important piece of a larger story. Maybe this isn’t Smith’s fault. The vacuum that is George Bush’s presidency is so huge, and so intense, that it demands dozens of these sorts of investigations.
RaveThe Seattle Review of BooksThough Roach has no scientific background to speak of, she immerses herself in every subject until she enjoys the kind of mastery that allows her to pass on complex information through very simple language to her readers ... Unlike most books about the military, Grunt is not a book that fetishizes guns and other weaponry...Roach is more interested in the search for bomb-proof underwear, and this aspect of the military-industrial complex feels so refreshing that you might never want to read some macho Tom Clancy-style fetishization of artillery again for as long as you may live ... you could probably produce more STEM students by handing high-school students Roach’s books, advising them that they’re full of fart and sex jokes, and just letting them fall in love with the nerds Roach interviews — the laser-focused geeks who just want to make the world a better place in the only way they can.
PanThe Seattle Review of Books[Lahiri's] skill as a writer was so lively that writing about her abandoning English forces me to use dour sentences as though I’m writing a eulogy for her, even though she’s still alive, even though she likely has many fruitful decades ahead of her as a writer. Lahiri includes two pieces of fiction in Words, and they are, as Lahiri herself advertises, nothing like her writing in English. They’re stubby, awkward, uncomfortable, obvious and weird. Inserted into one of her two English story collections, they would jut out like a fractured bone, ugly and mean. They are not the work of the same writer.