RaveThe Newtown Review of Books (AUS)With these three interweaving narratives informing and deconstructing each other, Devil House becomes a complex, thematically rich and resonant series of tales of crime and murder. But it also becomes a meta-textual consideration of storytelling itself – why we tell ourselves and others stories, how we are able to construct narratives to make sense of the world and to share that view of the world with others, and how these stories can look different from different perspectives. In doing so Devil House becomes both an analysis and takedown of the true crime genre ... John Darnielle’s novels have never been what readers might think they are. He uses genre to draw readers in and provide the foundation of an engaging narrative. But his use of genre conventions is usually to subvert them and open the door to a much broader conversation. In Devil House he uses this technique to deliver another fascinating, complex and cleverly constructed novel that asks plenty of questions and delivers no easy answers.
PositiveThe Newtown Review of Books (AUS)The Sentence feels like it started as one thing and was then overtaken by events, in particular the events of 2020. But despite that, Erdrich manages to bring all her narrative threads into a coherent whole ... The Sentence begins somewhat frenetically ... There is plenty to love about The Sentence. First and foremost, a deep and abiding love of small bookstores and the people who work there ... while it deals with some unpleasant recent events, it is anything but. Tookie is a resilient, self-aware character who loves life and loves books and whose narrative is barbed but layered with humour and hope. And while it feels like those real-life events overtook what may originally have been planned to be a slightly different narrative, well, that is life too. Erdrich chose not to ignore the real world but to explore how her characters respond to it, and in doing so she brings all of us who have experienced or witnessed the same events deeper into her story.
RaveThe Newtown Review of Books (AUS)Harlem Shuffle is filled with shady but relatable characters ... Throughout the narrative, Whitehead brings the neighbourhoods and people of Harlem in the early 1960s to life. He paints a vivid picture of the city from the shops to the diners and the clubs ... While Whitehead may be a little more laid back in Harlem Shuffle, and revels in the tropes of the crime genre, this only serves to make his underlying commentary stand out more ... He delivers both an engaging and tense crime narrative while also bringing to life a time and place. But more than that, Whitehead continues to use his stories to highlight the historical and ongoing challenges faced by Black communities in America. To once again make the point that no matter how far that society has come towards righting the wrongs of the past, there is still a long way to go.
MixedThe Newtown Review of BooksAs with much literary post-apocalyptic fiction, Lethem is not interested in the details of the apocalypse so much as what his scenario says about modern culture and society. There is plenty of backstory that focusses on the movie and television industry and the superficiality of American society ... a timely reflection on why we are so enamoured of post-apocalyptic narratives ... what Lethem has ultimately delivered in The Arrest is...post-apocalyptic comfort food. Including a fairly utopian society, vaguely menacing bad guys on motorcycles, a bit of a deus-ex-machina ending and a romantic sub-plot complete with meet-cute. The narrative becomes so meta and referential...that it becomes hard to know what point Lethem is actually trying to make ... it may be worth taking a minute to pause and consider why we are drawn to these narratives. Lethem attempts to do this within the framework of a piece of agrarian post-apocalyptic fiction, including the requisite pre-apocalyptic social satire. How engaged readers will be by it will depend not only on their connection to the plot, which is slight, and the characters, some of whom are only just beyond caricature or genre ‘types’, but their interest in the genre as a whole.
Maria Dahvana Headley
RaveNewtown Review of Books (AUS)The critical aspect of this translation is that Headley uses language to bring the story vividly to life. Reinterpreting the text enables it to sing off the page, deploying verse and modern interpretations when necessary to recreate Beowulf as a flowing, visceral tale ... Headley has taken an ancient tale written be sung in a mead hall around an open fire and brought it, complete with all of its braggadocio, swordplay, feats of daring and occasional ultra-violence, into the twenty-first century. It is, even more than that, a joy to read and highly recommended.
MixedThe Newtown Review of Books (AUS)There is a lot to chew on in QualityLand—the power of the internet, the malicious use (intentional and otherwise) of personal data, artificial intelligence (both Turing and Asimov get a workout here), the hypocrisy of commerce and politics. But despite the satirical setting, which can and does show these issues in action, Kling still often feels the need to spell things out to his readers ... QualityLand is often funny but at other times it is, as Peter himself observes at one point, ‘too true to be funny’. Kling has plenty of points to make, most of them about a bunch of genies that are well and truly already out the bottle. But in using this type of over-the-top satire, Kling hopes to lull his readers into a sense of security...before ramming his points home ... And in setting those points within a standard hero’s quest narrative (Peter the everyman takes on the system), he provides some little spark of hope that readers who get the point can actually make a difference.
N. K. Jemisin
RaveThe Newton Review of Books... firmly puts the urban into urban fantasy ... a wild, comic, scary, insightful, sometimes pointed ride through one of the greatest cities in world as it’s caught in the act of understanding itself ... While each of these characters is a ‘representative’ of their borough, they are also finely drawn and engaging in their own right ... a joyous celebration of New York, its diversity and what makes it great. But along the way Jemisin establishes a much bigger canvas ... it will be no surprise if The City We Became sees Jemisin featuring in the major science fiction and fantasy awards again this year.
RaveNewtown Review of Books (AUS)American Dirt opens with a scene that is as shocking as it is gripping ... Cummins delivers a page-turning thriller where there is literally danger around every corner for her main characters ... The tension is always high ... this is a thoroughly researched and in the end compassionate look at what has become a highly politicised subject ... American Dirt effectively uses thriller tropes and some melodramatic story beats to force readers to focus on the human dimension of this global movement ... while American Dirt may not be the literary fiction breakout that some are touting, it is an important work. Never less than tense, and completely compulsive, Cummins manages to both make her point and deliver an effective piece of fiction.
RaveNewtown Review of Books (AUS(Ninth House starts with a killer first sentence and a dizzyingly cold opening ... Bardugo does away with exposition early on, building her world by immersing the reader in Alex’s life. Little is directly explained and it takes a few chapters for the world to make sense ... The real world setting for Ninth House gives it all an air of authenticity ... Ninth House is the complete package. Bardugo has created a robust and believable magic world and within that delivers a page-turning murder mystery. Alex, in the way of all good detectives, is always in trouble and in danger, and the stakes feel high and they feel real. The resolution of the mystery is satisfying in that it ties together a number of threads that had previously felt disparate. And after all of that, Bardugo still manages to land a cliffhanger that promises a further welcome exploration of this world.
RaveThe Newton Review of Books (AUS)David Eggers mashed Google, Microsoft and Apple in The Circle. Hart does something similar for Amazon and other online shops with more success ... this cynicism runs through a series of revelations towards the end of the book that are more disheartening than unexpected ... Rob Hart gives readers plenty to chew on...But aside from a couple of lengthy speeches, he never makes it feel polemical. He anchors his story on two flawed characters who somehow start a relationship that has a core of something real despite the lies between them. Paxton and Zinnia do unexpected things, they make bad decisions but they are the human heart in a machine that is designed to use them until they have no more usefulness ... a cautionary tale. But it seems the warning might be coming too late ... Given the strength with which he makes his point, Hart does not need to reference Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale, but he does. And while The Warehouse may not reach the literary heights of some of these dystopian classics, it makes a solid pitch to be the most possible, and therefore the scariest.
PositiveThe Newtown Review of BooksThe key to all this is that none of Ruff’s characters are victims, even when they are on the losing side of the ongoing battle ... Given the episodic nature of the stories, this is a book that feels ripe for adaptation ... Ruff pulls off a daring feat of his own in this book as he walks a tightrope between the pulp he is repurposing and his exploration of the racism in America that was inherent in those texts. And he succeeds in creating a series of creepy tales that also show how, for many black communities in America in the 1950s, the real demons were not hidden things that went bump in the night but were in plain sight in the wider society in which they lived.