PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorRuth’s eventual decision to face her past sets up Johnson’s graceful, well-crafted exploration of class, race, and culture; of motherhood; and of family ties. Johnson’s memorable characters are forced into uncomfortable situations that feel vital to understand in a divided America ... Ruth’s shame and guilt about giving up her baby seems like an outsized horror – more 1950s than 1990s – but it does mirror the gnawing sorrow of her own mother’s absence, one of several parallels that Johnson draws in her rumination of parenthood ... Johnson also warmly illustrates the trust and connections that can be found in a close-knit Midwestern town, with some lovely descriptions of relationships and people ... twin plots wind through a series of satisfying but unsurprising twists, and Johnson’s observations carry a ring of well-accepted truths, despite some frustrating narrative gaps ... The book’s chief mysteries are solved by the end, and Ruth feels real enough that the reader is left room to ponder what happens to her and to Midnight in the next phases of their lives.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... a close-knit neighborhood that becomes easy to visualize, thanks to Thomas’ world-building skills ... One of Thomas’ standout talents is her ability to show readers of all backgrounds that Maverick, despite his imperfections and struggles, is also more blossom than thorns ... briskly written in Thomas’ unmistakable style, which is breezy but scattered with piercing insights and wry humor ... More unusual for a Young Adult novel is Thomas’ loving, true-to-life, and sometimes hilarious account of what’s involved in parenting an infant ... very satisfying read.
PositiveThe Seattle Times... thoughtful and thought-provoking ... Madison writes evocatively about her youth in Davis, California, and a short stint in Japan ... The book takes on added piquancy when talking about Madison’s botanist father and wildly creative mother ... The book doesn’t digest other sections of Madison’s personal history as thoroughly, though, with more depth devoted to food-related facts. In fairness, Madison makes even nut loaf a pleasure to read about, but her reserve leaves the reader hungry for even more.
PositiveThe Seattle TimesDavid Chang is familiar to modern gastronomes ... There’s a lot to learn and appreciate from his ruminations, if readers can sort through the metawriting, a nonlinear second half, and the feeling that there are multiple projects jammed into one here, penned by an author unsure if he’s ready to face them. A post-epilogue chapter on \'33 Rules For Becoming A Chef\' is a stand-alone classic ... Rewardingly, by book’s end, Chang has found love, fatherhood and a head start on some peace.
RaveChristian Science MonitorThe book is a particularly welcome arrival in this time of upheaval: It\'s as quietly thoughtful, human, and heartrending as Robinson’s earlier work, while illuminating the blatant racial injustices of a not-so-distant era.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIn her second novel, The Vanishing Half, she immediately captivates readers with the mysterious \'lost twins\' Desiree and Stella Vignes ... While the plot often hinges on coincidences as dramatic as a movie script, the twins’ characters feel real and complex enough for the reader to accept those developments as family lore ... Leaping backward and forward through time, the story alternates narrators and passes through two generations as it explores its difficult truths ... Teens will likely be as drawn to this book as their parents, but readers should note that the story includes brief but vivid scenes of child molestation and a lynching.
Anne De Courcy
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorDe Courcy doesn’t judge her subjects, but seems deeply familiar with them, describing scenes with such confidence and intimacy the reader is practically viewing them through a peephole. Even for relatively minor characters, we learn vivid details about topics from their landscaping to their scandalous entanglements ... The mix of humor and horror can be discombobulating, along with the piecemeal narrative: One character is introduced with a chilling prophecy about her fate, for instance; we don’t hear more until the prophecy is fulfilled more than 100 pages later. Still, we are warned of this approach early on: De Courcy states in her prologue that she did not intend to write either a biography of Chanel or an account of the Riviera, but to just tell the story of the years when Chanel summered there. It’s a framing device of space and time, making for a fascinating kaleidoscope of a story—one that works because of the glitter of each individual piece.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe book is steeped in...history and sense of place in Riverside, California, populated with citrus groves and pepper trees and burning Santa Ana winds ... Turning the lens to [Straight\'s] own family and their ancestors, the stories are as rich and resonant as fiction ... Straight is writing the heroine’s journey rather than the hero’s, focusing on characters whose hard-won odysseys are rarely recognized ... Their history is heartrending ... Yet the book is equally filled with beauty and constancy, thanks to Straight’s carefully chosen memories and elegantly clear prose.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorSave Me the Plums is only an incidental Gourmet history, covering the Venn pie wedge where it intersects with Reichl’s own life. That’s OK – abundantly so ... As usual, Reichl gives us a front-row seat to a glamorous world, though it’s harder here for readers to relate to the heights she’s reached ... For subscribers who saw her expand Gourmet’s horizons, it’s satisfying to hear the inside story of recipe tests and designs, or decisions like running David Foster Wallace’s groundbreaking bioethics story, \'Consider the Lobster\' ... even fans may not care about the ins and outs of art directors and editors and office politics. Reichl’s in a tough spot; she can’t tell the Gourmet story without devoting space to such particulars, yet they’re just not as gripping ... there’s ample room to reunite here with Reichl, who we’ve missed at our virtual dinner table.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor\"Like Thomas’s first book, it’s bound to resonate with readers who don’t often see themselves and their communities at the center of a story ... I don’t know whether Bri’s life is as broadly relatable as Starr’s, but On the Come Up should appeal to a wider audience, regardless of color, background, political views, or even musical tastes ... With On the Come Up, like a hit song, the bigger themes will linger right along with the catchy beat.\
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWe get all facets of the author and scholar in Daemon Voices, a collection of essays and speeches gathered under the umbrella of \'stories and storytelling.\' Some pieces illuminate Pullman’s path to his own finished books, but the range is much broader, a kaleidoscope of topics viewed through Pullman’s particular lens ... The book’s not a beach read (I tried!), but Pullman can unwind certain dense topics as lyrically as a poet. We’re informed by his ruminations on favorites like John Milton ... He allies himself with readers ... Some of the topics in Daemon Voices are so specifically linked to events, publications, or particular audiences that they feel a little out of place collected back-to-back ... More frustrating—and hard to avoid in this format—are the repetitions. Naturally, an author speaking before different groups of people will tell some of the same stories or points. For this, among other reasons, it’s not a book to read in one sitting. Dipping in and out of it, though, the restatements seem to build a case, serving as reminders rather than frustrations.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorBibliophiles will feel deeply understood from the start, when Orlean talks about bringing her young son to a branch library in Los Angeles, just as her own mother had taken her to one in the Cleveland suburbs ... As Orlean delves into Central Library’s history, she re-animates the lively characters who once dominated the scene ... Unexpectedly engaging sections are tied to architects and landscaping and budgets, plus the overwhelming modern challenges of homelessness and mental illness ... In other hands the book would have been a notebook dump, packed with random facts that weren’t germane but felt too hard-won or remarkable to omit. Orlean’s lapidary skills include both unearthing the data and carving a storyline out of the sprawl, piling up such copious and relevant details that I wondered how many mountains of research she discarded for each page of jewels ... in telling the story of this one library, Orlean reminds readers of the spirit of them all, their mission to welcome and equalize and inform, the wonderful depths and potential that they—and maybe all of us, as well—contain.
Zachary R Wood
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWood grew up poor, with an abusive mother and other relatives who couldn’t save him from her mistreatment any better than social agencies could. He recounts his mother’s terrifying humiliations, but also accepts her as a complicated woman who fought against mental illness, and as a fiercely sharp guide to life ... Throughout the book, Wood is a cerebral analyst – he introduces his mother by commenting on her \'excellent soft skills\' as well as her beautiful smile. The closer we get to the present day, the more his voice shifts from autobiography to a zoomed-in mix of term paper and sometimes-defensive diary ... In every area, the book’s broadest lesson might be the reality that good intentions aren’t enough on their own.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe book includes 75 recipes, which read like oral tradition even though they’re written down (one ingredient list includes both lard and luck.) The stories surrounding each meal are just as rich ... By turns grim and funny, he can describe the flavors of raccoon, possum, bear, even squirrel brains (cook them with scrambled eggs, \'to cut down on that metal taste,\' his mother advises), making it clear that they’re desperation meals for people with no better options. He also recognizes how “blue-collar Southern cooks” use time and skill to transform humble ingredients into rapturous feasts. Most of the book’s recipes are gloriously tempting examples from that canon – hand-mixed biscuits swimming in sweet cinnamon-scented milk, ham and redeye gravy, pecan pie, cracklin’ cornbread, even creamed onions that sound simple but are harder than they look to cook to perfection ... the characters remain indelible, as when Bragg writes how he sometimes sees an old woman tottering along the roadside, stuffing poke salad greens into a burlap bag. He slows the car to make sure it’s not his mother. At times, it is.
RaveThe Seattle TimesThe book is a reminder of how bizarre even organic vegetables seemed to most Americans just a few decades ago. It tells how controversial macrobiotic diets introduced young cooks to Asian ingredients and cooking techniques, while giving 'the first shape to an emerging culture built on the foundations of eating seasonally, organically and often locally' ...the cultural changes Kauffman mapped were as much a product of rural towns as big cities. It turns out the 'hippie food' story is a cross-country tapestry of fascinating individuals and big visions ... Along the way, it informs us how many lively stories there are behind our most mundane meals.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorDevoted followers won’t find major new stories in this unauthorized biography...Relying on published interviews, transcripts, and Nicks’ own writing, it’s certainly an exhaustive account, and endlessly detailed ... Without Nicks’s cooperation, it makes sense that Davis can’t always delve beneath surface explanations of her actions. But it’s still jarring to see the occasional unexplored bomb thrown out ... It’s clear that Davis respects Nicks’s musical talent, at least, and that he’s assembled a great deal of information. Still, after all the quotes, reports, facts and rumors, we’re left thinking Nicks has secrets and stories that remain untold.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorAt heart, the book is the story of the couple’s marriage and the question of whether Lizzie can transcend her emotional walls, but we learn the details through storytelling vignettes that smoothly spool back and forth through time. That style and the 1990s setting lend the story a slightly formal, old-fashioned quality, allowing plot twists that 21st-century advancements might have eliminated … The pace is abrupt at the very beginning, then settles down to a relaxed back-and-forth survey that skims through the character’s lives, inching the story forward here and pausing to develop a detail there. It’s a surprisingly delicious read considering how many of the main plot points are revealed in the first few pages.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWith narratives as dreamy and nightmarish as a living Grimms’ fairy tale, the book is a family biography of her grandmother and great-aunt. The personal story is seamlessly backed by the author’s deep research, from scholarly papers to records found in 'a file in an unmarked warehouse located at the end of an unpaved service road in Riga' ... [a] magical combination of history and personal history.