PositiveTIME\"White Houses is an unconventional love story. It lacks a happily-ever-after–Bloom does not allow her Hickok and Eleanor to have the public partnership that history denied them–and it centers on a romance between not only two women, but middle-aged ones who are \'not conventional beauties,\' as Hickok puts it. Yet they feel beautiful when they are together. This makes it all the more painful when the relationship goes on hiatus late in FDR’s presidency. \'All fires go out,\' Hickok says, explaining her lingering feelings to Franklin. \'It doesn’t mean that we don’t still want to sit by the fireplace, I guess.\' In White Houses, Bloom has built up exactly the sort of blaze that will draw readers to linger.\
RaveTIMELisa Halliday’s debut novel, Asymmetry, begins with a lopsided affair – a perfect vehicle for a story of inexperience and advantage. This romance is between Alice, a young woman in publishing, and Ezra Blazer, a literary éminence grise, who resembles a certain real-life novelist who is chronically on Nobel wish lists. The details of their relationship are sometimes painfully precise, but Alice’s emotions are mostly left to guesswork ... The shift in subject matter complements one in style: the writing is now explicitly emotional, and so far from the understatement of the first half that you might think it was a different book written by another author. Which is Halliday’s delicious trick ... Alice and Amar may be naive, but Halliday is knowing – about isolation, dissatisfaction and the pain of being human.
RaveTIME\"As anyone who picks up Feel Free will learn, the award-winning writer is not only well informed but also refreshingly insightful on any number of topics, from Martin Buber to Justin Bieber ... Reviewing a book by her countryman Geoff Dyer, she writes that she is most struck by \'his tone. Its simplicity, its classlessness, its accessibility and yet its erudition–the combination is a trick few British writers ever pull off.\' Without question, Smith is one of them.\
PositiveTime\"Smith glares—at times sympathetically, at times unforgivingly—at a wasteland of a world where Brexit is possible … The characters here are the kind who find the winter holidays challenging, not comforting … It’s a challenge to write a novel about a particular political moment—it threatens to become irrelevant. Smith has apparently tried to solve this problem in part by incorporating historical side plots that resonate with the present in both Autumn and Winter; here, it’s the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, where activists began protesting the site of a cruise-missile base in the early 1980s. She spins a fine story, but it feels shoehorned in, and ultimately unnecessary. Nevertheless, Winter is a stunning meditation on a complex, emotional moment in history. The outlook at the end is dark, but soon enough Spring will come.\
PositiveTIME...Manhattan Beach is more conventional in that it’s a linear, historical narrative set circa World War II. It’s a less inventive book, but many readers will find it more satisfying ... Though the prose is exquisite, Egan never lets it get in the way of the story. In bouts of glamour, adventure and violence, she gives the narrative a cinematic feel, while grounding it in Anna’s realistic frustrations with society ...readers of today will find her story of daring and persistence deeply resonant.
RaveTIMENot much happens to the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, the stars of Alice McDermott's new novel The Ninth Hour — they live to serve others. But plenty has happened to those in their care ... Sin and virtue drive the novel, and though several characters commit serious transgressions — at least in the eyes of the church — they are more often motivated by love than hate ...has as much affection for her characters as they have for one another. Although the plot can be bleak, it offers just enough warmth to nurture hope ...a story with the simple grace of a votive candle in a dark church.
PositiveTIMEAt times, Gattis overexplains these men's motivations. He needn't — the pathos of their problems is inherently compelling. This macho, faster-than-a-speeding-bullet novel benefits from the extensive research Gattis has done on the L.A. gang scene — his previous novel, All Involved, was about the 1992 riots — and that deep knowledge informs electrifying plot twists. To navigate them, Ghost knows, he's 'got to put a saddle on all the stuff that makes me be me and ride it. Strategy. Lying. Cleverness. All the gifts I ever had that made me a damn good junkie have got to be used for good now.'
PositiveTIME...though the characters may not be particularly erudite, Cohen's writing is filled with sharp turns of phrase and elegant rhythms ... Cohen's cadence is inflected with Hebrew, a language that David defines as 'the speech of the beleaguered, the last exasperation before a spanking.' And a spanking is coming for David and his family ... The denouement is as vengeful as any Old Testament plot twist.
RaveTIMEMuch like his character Alan, he is both prolific and a bona fide student of the golden age of detective fiction — and his knowledge shines through in this book, which is catnip for classic mystery lovers. As a Christie disciple, he is near equal to his master ... With its elegant yet playful plotting, Magpie Murders is the thinking mystery fan's ideal summer thriller.
RaveTIMEThe combination of Grimm-ish allusion and social commentary might seem pat in the hands of less capable authors, but LaValle executes the trick with style. 'Fairy tales are not for children,' as one character explains. 'They didn't used to be anyway. They were stories peasants told each other around the fire after a long day, not to their kids.' To that end, LaValle has written a story full of things to terrify not children but the parents who lose sleep worrying about how best to protect them.
RaveTIMELike its predecessor, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a complex, nonlinear narrative that blends the personal and political. But unlike The God of Small Things, which focused on a pair of twins whose tragedy was familial, this is a novel of conflict on a grand scale ... There may be terrible bloodshed in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, but it is undeniably good literature. Roy's rich and knowing narration wings across the landscape, traversing caste, religion and gender divides. She acerbically captures the cruel ironies of a city like Delhi, where dead paupers lie in 'air-conditioned splendor' in the morgue, despite never having 'experienced anything of the kind while they were alive.' She has a keen sympathy for women in dangerous spaces, whose bodies are used as shields, sacrifices and good-luck charms ... Arriving as it does at a time of geopolitical uncertainty, Roy's novel will be the unmissable literary read of the summer. With its insights into human nature, its memorable characters and its luscious prose, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is well worth the 20-year wait.
PanTIME...a 1,460-page haute-tabloid tome ... The author relies heavily on interviews with a former girlfriend, Sheila Miyoshi Jager, with whom Obama lived in the 1980s, as if that relationship were the key to understanding his personality ... Observers of the Obamas' 25-year marriage will find the characterization of their romance as merely political plainly out of touch.
J. Courtney Sullivan
RaveTIMESullivan lets readers in on these secrets even as most of her characters stay in the dark, elevating the novel above the average family drama. With tenderness and a knack for depicting Irish grandmothers that anybody who has one will appreciate, Sullivan celebrates ordinary people doing their best to live saintly lives.
Stephanie Powell Watts
PositiveTIMEWatts picks and chooses which elements of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story to keep (car accident, yes; wild parties, no). The looseness frees her to build a narrative that stands on its own terms ... Like Fitzgerald, Watts excels at physical descriptions that give texture to the world of the novel ... Though disjointed in places, the novel conjures the 'Is that all there is?' mood of Gatsby to great effect. To call Watts 'promising' would diminish her significant accomplishments, which include a Whiting Award and a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction. In the best possible way, this is the kind of book that makes a reader yearn for her next one.
PositiveTIMEAmiable With Big Teeth, lives up to McKay's reputation. The book satirizes life in Harlem during the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, when 'Aframericans' (the Jamaica-born author's term) rose up in support of Ethiopians. He was taking aim at the white communists who tried to infiltrate pro-Ethiopia groups to win support for their cause, manipulating the 'poor black sheep of Harlem' without caring about their problems. Socialites, intellectuals and hucksters debate the conflict abroad from the parlors and churches of Harlem, while communists picket to 'Make Harlem safe for Soviet Russia.' McKay mocks both sides, but he knows the stakes: 'If a native state can maintain its existence in Africa and hold its head up among the white nations,' one character says, 'it adds to the self-respect of the colored Americans' ... The story could have used tightening, but it's a shame for McKay's contemporaries that it was passed over. For us, it's a lucky treat.
PositiveTIMEHamid's prose powerfully evokes the violence and anxiety of lives lived 'under the drone-crossed sky.' But his whimsical framing of the situation offers a hopeful metaphor for the future as the 'natives' come to accept their new neighbors. 'Perhaps they had grasped that the doors could not be closed,' he writes, 'and new doors would continue to open, and they had understood that the denial of coexistence would have required one party to cease to exist, and the extinguishing party too would have been transformed in the process.'
PositiveTIMESix Four makes its U.S. debut four years after it came out in Japan, where it was a literary blockbuster. The book sold more than a million copies and was adapted both for film and for TV. Part of its appeal was the way it illuminated the country's deep tradition of hierarchy and control. This is a story about frustration at work — wanting to do what's right vs. needing to do what's expected. Though it deploys common tropes of crime fiction and its lightly noir style, Six Four's unusual focus on the PR side of police work sets it apart and gives it unexpected heat. Yokoyama avoids simplistic moralizing, and instead offers the reader a compelling interrogation of duty. Some of the twists along the way are less shocking than American readers might expect. But the final one pays off.
RaveTIME...in spite of those horrors, Days Without End is suffused with joy and good spirit ... Through Barry, the frontiersman has a poet's sense of language. His thoughts on his sergeant's visible aging: 'Like we got 10 faces to wear in our lives and we wear them one by one.' If you underlined every sentence in Days Without End that has a rustic beauty to it, you'd end up with a mighty stripy book.
PositiveTIME\"Auster\'s long sentences and meandering plots amount to a detailed landscape where readers with a penchant for what-ifs can spend more time with an endearing young man, his spirited crush, his charming mother, and the circle of father figures, teachers and friends who love him. All this lovability is in service of a particular metafictional end point, it turns out — and for readers who like taking the scenic route, getting taken for a ride will be worth it.\
PositiveTIME\"Her new novel, Human Acts, showcases the same talent for writing about corporeal horrors ... Han deftly outlines the anatomy of violence, as when a character’s cheek is struck so hard that \'the capillaries laced over her right cheekbone burst.\' Wounds form scars, and over decades, the survivors bear reminders of their pain–and of the lives cut down beside them.\
RaveTIMEHomesick for Another World showcases her mastery with tales of a range of creeps and weirdos in despair, looking for something that will make this world more palatable to them (or vice versa). Moshfegh sympathizes with these people on the margins even as she mocks them, often suturing together comedy and tragedy in one sentence ... This cast of boors may not be the kind of folks readers would seek out to spend time with in real life. But in Moshfegh’s stories, their company is irresistible.
PositiveTIMEKate DiCamillo has made a career of inventing young characters whose soulfulness rivals that of the adults in their lives, from her iconic first novel for young readers, Because of Winn-Dixie (2000), to the Newbery-winning Flora & Ulysses (2013). Raymie Nightingale too reminds adults about the profound depth of childhood feelings.
RaveTIMEExquisitely gut-churning ... Brundage’s elegant exploration of motive—in all its directions—sets this book apart ... Paranormal activity hangs in the atmosphere [and] Brundage takes us compellingly inside the perverse machinations of a violently narcissistic mind [that] recalls Patricia Highsmith’s talented Mr. Ripley.
PositiveTIMEUnder Lahiri and Goldstein’s joint custody, all this caretaking leads to a quiet coming of age–both a liberation from the constraints of perfectionism and a meditation on new beginnings.
RaveTIMEBefore all the hours of cardio, the dinners of grains, the awful relationships and the dressing-room visits that end in tears, teenage Lizzie makes a promise to herself: 'Later on I’m going to be really f-cking beautiful...I’ll be hungry and angry all my life but I’ll also have a hell of a time.' A hell, indeed. And Awad’s sensitive, unflinching depiction of it is a valuable addition to the canon of American womanhood.
PositiveTIMELike Georges Bizet’s Carmen or Pamina in The Magic Flute, Lilliet is more persona than personality: her love is passionate but shallow, and her motives don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s the ball gowns and roses, magic tricks and ruses, hubris and punishment that will keep the reader absorbed until the final aria, waiting to see whom fate will curse and whom it will avenge.