RaveBookPageWhile the changes in points of view can be dizzying at first, Doerr’s writing grounds the reader in homely but often beautiful details ... This is an ambitious, genre-busting novel, with climate change as a major undercurrent. And while sorrow and violence play large roles, so does tenderness. Like All the Light We Cannot See, Cloud Cuckoo Land resolves into a well-connected plot, with threaded connections that are unexpected yet inevitable, offering hope and some surprising acts of redemption.
PositiveBookPage... we get vivid glimpses of life in this unsettled landscape, with uncanny scenes of American military officers enjoying beers in former Nazi halls, German Fräuleins by their sides, and the abundance in military black markets contrasting with the extreme lack faced by Berliners ... The Living and the Lost moves along quickly, and its descriptions and dialogue feel true to the era. While the novel would have benefited from more interiority from both Millie and David, it’s still an illuminating historical drama with plenty of action and even some romance, evoking a lesser-known historical period—the immediate postwar era and Berlin before the wall—and the complications and compromises that come with the end of war.
PositiveBookPageChow recounts both her own youth and episodes from the lives of her parents, immigrants who met and married in Connecticut and whom Chow portrays with love and candor ... Wing Shek, Chow’s dad, became unable to throw anything away in the years after his wife’s death, and Chow portrays this reality with compassion ... Like the experience of grief itself, Seeing Ghosts is meditative, fragmentary, sometimes funny and occasionally hopeful.
J. Michael Straczynski
PositiveBookpageStraczynski...uses text messages, emails, online journal entries and audio transcripts to reveal the characters’ thoughts and actions, creating a 21st-century epistolary novel. Because of this format, the novel moves along quickly, although the characters’ thoughts occasionally blur together, especially when musing philosophically on the state of the world and their places in it. But a late plot twist is satisfying, intensifying the characters’ bonds as they decide what to do. While a novel about characters planning to end their lives is not for everyone (as the introduction notes, \'discretion is advised\'), Together We Will Go is, in the end, about friendship and learning to love.
PositiveBookPageIn her conversational, often funny style, Klam takes us along on her intrepid search for the truth, near-truth and outright lies embedded in her family’s colorful lore about the Morris sisters ... Along the way, as Klam weaves anecdotes with uncovered records, the sisters emerge as distinct individuals and, yes, almost legendary women. But in the end, The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters isn’t about the sisters so much as it’s about Klam’s search, her wrong turns and dead ends, and the sadder truths that family members papered over ... an entertaining read that offers a substantial meditation on the meaning of family and what our ancestors mean to us, even when we can’t get as close as we’d like to their stories.
PositiveBookPageEach chapter follows a family member, beginning with a repeated line of dialogue from the previous chapter, an intriguing structure that links the characters and offers a wider perspective while also propelling the reader along ... well plotted, offering plenty of action, but it shines brightest in depicting family relationships, love mixed with resentment and guilt, and in character development. The Brennan siblings are believably flawed, their troubles multifaceted. The family house and Denny and Kale’s bar are almost characters, too, well depicted throughout ... is firmly in the vein of Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes and J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions, though not as literary in its prose style. It’s a page-turner in the best way, slowly doling out the family’s life-altering secrets. We root for the Brennans the whole way through, waiting for them to face hard truths about one another and, we hope, to move forward together.
PositiveBookPageHave you ever thought, What my household needs is a few peacocks? Me neither. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying Sean Flynn’s Why Peacocks? An Unlikely Search for Meaning in the World’s Most Magnificent Bird, which details what happened after his family took on some pet peacocks ... [Flynn] he approaches his subject with a science writer’s eye for detail ... The narrative of Why Peacocks? alternates between this family’s story and more journalistic accounts, as Flynn leads us through a natural and cultural history of peacocks, including the evolution of male peacocks’ shimmering feather trains and the roles peacocks have played in religious traditions, making entertaining digressions along the way ... Although this book is a quick read, it’s well researched with an extensive bibliography. Sweet and often funny, Why Peacocks? is an engaging mix of memoir, history and journalism.
RaveBookPageOh, does Lauren Hough have a story to tell ... These essays are funny, profane and deceptively loose, as if Hough is talking to you late at night in a quiet bar. But they’re also well crafted and make unexpected connections ... Hough’s writing is about voice, and her distinctive style is what carries the reader through. By the collection’s end, you feel you know her, and you know she’s finding her own way through writing. Hough is a writer to watch.
PositiveBookPageIn a lesser writer’s hands, this story might be merely meditative, even dull, but a McCracken story is never boring, and this one offers plenty of surprises ... A new collection from McCracken is always welcome. Grief, loss and the passage of time run through these stories, but so does humor, both the wry and laugh-out-loud varieties. Comedy lurks in even the smallest, sharpest observations.
PositiveBookPage... gentle time-slip story ... Faye’s voice is charming, funny, sometimes philosophical and occasionally digressive. Her first-person perspective is in direct conversation with the reader, asking us if we’re still with her and assuring us that she understands if we’re not. Faye, Faraway is a welcome escape.
Liese O'Halloran Schwarz
PositiveBookPageThis sounds like a setup for a suspense novel, and What Could Be Saved does offer suspenseful moments and surprising reversals. But two other elements make this novel uniquely satisfying: the portraits of each Preston family member, and the novel’s depiction of the unintended consequences of late 20th-century Americans abroad ... Genevieve is an especially memorable character, depicted at first as a shallow expat wife but when confronted with extreme loss is forced to change dramatically. Schwarz also gives wonderful texture to life in early 1970s Bangkok, although occasionally those details go too far, lending weight to moments that don’t need them ... juggles a complex story and structure, creating believable characters in its portrait of a family shattered by loss.
PositiveBookPage... balances the light with the dark, such as Margery’s trauma-filled youth ... The novel also has a marvelous, economical way of contrasting the drab gray of postwar London with the vivid colors, sounds and smells of New Caledonia ... Joyce’s fiction has been slotted into \'uplit,\' a publishing term for novels that contain some dark moments but ultimately offer an uplifting ending. For readers who seek escape, Miss Benson’s Beetle is just right.
PositiveBookPagePayback resists categorization; it’s part satire and part meditative character study with a lot of interiority ... Still, Payback offers many pleasures, not only the range in voices but also the evocation of two eras, the early 1970s and the current decade, with the right amount of period detail. Agnes’ sections offer some of the novel’s most beautiful writing, with wonderful observations on families, life in Italy, aging and the passage of time. This is an intriguing addition to Gordon’s body of work.
RaveBookPageIf Rankine’s essays are wide-ranging (blondness, police violence, Latinx stereotypes) and well researched, they’re also conversational and personal ... These images and asides expand on the essays while offering a glimpse into Rankine’s process as a writer ... She is one of our foremost thinkers, and Just Us is essential reading in 2020 and beyond.
PositiveBookPageLilia bears some resemblance to Elizabeth Strout’s indelible character Olive Kitteridge ... both old-fashioned—an epistolary novel, more or less—and experimental, a kind of collage ... Lilia\'s notes...are often funny, taking the self-important Roland down a peg ... Li [is]...a wide-ranging writer who can brighten dark themes with humor and hope.
Sandra Tsing Loh
PositiveBookPageLoh’s tone is breezy and self-deprecating—it’s like having a glass of wine or a long phone call with your witty, goofy friend. Because the narrative is loosely structured, you can read straight through or just dip into an essay when the mood strikes ... I wish that Loh had riffed on her amazing jumble of a creative life, and how switching genres works, or doesn’t work, for her. But maybe that’s a wish for Loh to write another book.
PositiveBookPageAlthough the characters and their stories differ markedly from one another, Solomon’s omniscient narration serves as a lovely, wry guide ... >em>The Book of V. offers plenty of thoughtful interiority while spinning a fast-moving story. Lily’s meditations on feminism, motherhood, friendship and middle-class striving will resonate with many readers. The novel’s unexpected retelling of the Esther story is imaginative yet, in its own way, faithful to the original ... As with The Hours, The Book of V. connects its three characters’ stories not only thematically but also narratively, with a surprising yet inevitable and satisfying conclusion.
PositiveBookPageSickels does an excellent job showing the mix of panic, homophobia and bullying that AIDS once engendered. He also evokes the mid-1980s and rural small-town life with the right amount of period and place detail. Brian’s narration occasionally feels too composed and lyrical for a 24-year-old man talking into a camera, but that’s a small quibble ... While the story is bleak, it moves along at a clip, offering some surprises and a couple of unlikely, brave heroes. The Prettiest Star is a sensitive portrayal of a difficult time in our recent history.
Crissy Van Meter
PositiveBookPageThe novel’s structure is intriguing and unusual, but it can be hard to follow ... filled with evocative writing, particularly in the descriptions of the natural landmarks familiar to Evie, which witness essential moments in her growing up. Likewise, Evie’s first-person narration is vivid and close, although some scenes, and some of the novel’s other characters, seem underdeveloped. For instance, I wanted more of a sense of Evie’s friend Rook and Rook’s son Tommy, and a clearer sense about Evie’s dad’s early death ... Still, with its beautiful writing and redemptive ending, Creatures is an imaginative, atmospheric debut.
Therese Anne Fowler
PositiveBookPageThroughout, a chorus of neighbors intrudes to speculate and offer background information, an intriguing mix of omniscient narration and gossipy lamentation. Although the transitions between the chorus and the other perspectives aren’t always seamless, this structure adds depth to the sense of Shakespearean tragedy ... fast-paced and thoughtful.
PositiveBookPage... offers many painful reminders of the damage that repression can do, but it’s also a deep-breathing, atmospheric novel. Pufahl renders postwar San Diego, the characters’ rural poverty and 1950s closeted gay life in careful detail, spinning plain language into beautiful images. Her prose carries hints of other writers who combine the bleak and the hopeful, such as Annie Proulx, Wallace Stegner and Kent Haruf. While the novel’s middle drags a little, Muriel’s and Julius’ journeys are compelling and surprising. Pufahl is a novelist to watch.
PositiveBookPageJoan is stubborn, angry, self-deprecating and funny. Humor is a strength of the novel, and Joan’s first-person narration allows for lots of introspection, although it sometimes comes at the expense of the story and the development of the novel’s other characters. Joan’s co-workers fall in line with her investigative plan quickly, none of them giving more than a slight pushback, even though they stand to lose jobs and health insurance ... As I read The Nobodies, I thought of the HBO show Silicon Valley, for its funny, bumbling characters, and then Younger, whose main character connects with her 20-something publishing co-workers, and finally, The Inventor: Out for Blood, the documentary about the fraudulent tech startup Theranos. Combining elements from all of these narratives, The Nobodies is a fast-paced, contemporary novel with a main character who’s determined to get the real story and maybe find herself along the way.
Sarah Elaine Smith
PositiveBookPageIt’s a compelling premise for a suspenseful novel, and short chapters keep the story moving, as Cindy makes a choice that harms others. But Smith isn’t solely interested in plot; she’s a poet as well as a fiction writer, and her interest in language shows ... Marilou Is Everywhere’s language mixes the inventive with the plain, which adds another dimension to the first-person narration, making Cindy’s lonely world more vivid. Smith handles the darkness in the novel (rural poverty, sexual abuse, alcoholism, drug use, neglect) with a light touch, offering plenty of humor in Cindy’s narration. The story comes to a lovely conclusion, allowing Cindy and the novel’s other characters some redemption ... Smith is a writer to watch.
PositiveBookPageAlthough the novel’s point of view shifts with each chapter, Holsinger has made an interesting and smart decision to offer the perspective of only one of the four moms ... Yes, it’s a lot of characters to keep track of. But the novel’s frequent perspective shifting, interspersed with faux newspaper articles, texts, Facebook posts and video narration, keeps the story moving through the months leading up to the gifted school’s opening ... An astute reader may predict part of the outcome, but the story still offers satisfying surprises
RaveBookPageMcCulloch is fascinating on emojis, those tiny digital smiley faces, hearts and flamenco dancers that we add to texts ... McCulloch is convincingly reassuring about teen internet use ... Although the concept of internet linguistics might sound dry, McCulloch takes a sprightly approach. She’s funny as well as informative. Because Internet just might lead you to see the internet, and how you (and your kids) use it, in a whole new way.
MixedBookPageWith its long timespan and its focus on cultural change, Mrs. Everything is a departure for Weiner, a founding godmother of fun, fluffy, women-centric popular fiction ... Mrs. Everything’s flawed but approachable female characters, well-examined friendships and romantic relationships and often-joyful sex scenes make this vintage Weiner ... some details and secondary characters are skated over, and some sections feel rushed. Still, this is a warm, readable novel about figuring out what it means for a woman to be true to herself.
RaveBookPageAlthough Light From Other Stars includes plenty of science fiction elements, it’s also a coming-of-age story, as the young Nedda gains a new understanding of her parents and then works to rescue them and the rest of her town. Juggling dual timelines, wonderful mid-1980s period details and a large cast of secondary characters, Swyler has set herself an ambitious task. But the novel is well-paced, with a satisfying twist near the end that readers are subtly prepared for but that still feels surprising.
PositiveBookPageAs Gottlieb’s patients proceed (often painfully) through their sessions, so does Gottlieb with her new therapist, Wendell. And we get to listen in through this unusual combination of memoir, self-help guide and therapy primer ... warm, approachable and funny—a pleasure to read ... As we watch Gottlieb and her patients learn to tell the rest of their own stories and move beyond their pain, we find some surprising insights and even a bit of wisdom.
PositiveBookPageThe author of two novels, Fishman lets his narrative move novelistically back and forth in time through key moments like his family’s emigration ... Fishman’s writing is brisk and vivid, and despite generations’ worth of trauma the family suffered, from pervasive anti-Semitism to the brutalities of World War II, his memoir is often funny ... where this book departs from other memoirs: Most chapters end with detailed recipes, adding a lovely, homey dimension.
PositiveBookPage\"... lively, immersive ... Robb neatly uses her own and others’ dream experiences to introduce current research, including how dreams help us learn and remember, recover from trauma and stay mentally healthy ... Robb offers a range of suggestions for better attention to dreams, from keeping a dream journal to starting a dream group.\
PositiveBookpageThe phrase \'celebrity chemist\' sounds like an oxymoron, but at the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley was just that, a crusading chemist who fought for safe food and accurate food labeling. In The Poison Squad, Deborah Blum, director of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Program, tells Wiley’s story, as well as the larger story of what happened to our food supply in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. ... The Poison Squad offers a well-researched portrait of Wiley, rather unappealing food facts and an era of rapid American growth, with a government scrambling to catch up.
Bart Van Es
PositiveBookPageThe narration of the war years has a novelistic feel and takes on the viewpoint of Lien as a child. This method works well to convey the trauma Lien felt after losing her parents ... The book also makes wonderful use of Lien’s childhood poesy book (a kind of autograph book) and family photos and mementos. Van Es sets scenes well, contrasting the Netherlands of the 21st century—with its liberal outlook and high-tech industries—with the far more rural and traditional Netherlands of the 1940s ... though Lien isn’t named as a co-author, her own voice and the story of her survival, not just of the war but also of the decades afterward, come through clearly.
PositiveBookpageRough Beauty, opens on a beautiful March morning, when Auvinen, out delivering the mail on her rural Colorado route, notices the deep blue of the sky, the signs of early spring and smoke from a fire—a fire that turns out to be her own house burning...Auvinen can only watch as firefighters work to contain the fire, which destroys everything she owns ... Auvinen then drops back to detail her difficult adolescence: an abusive dad, an impassive mom, a peripatetic childhood. But she dispatches with her youth quickly, focusing instead on the years that followed the devastating fire and describing life at the edge of the wilderness.
RaveBookPageThe book’s complicated scientific explanations have the potential to be tedious (at least to nonengineers like me), but Winchester’s prose is engaging, describing concepts like the role of precision time-keeping in the development of GPS, and the mind-boggling set of factors that allow a jet engine to power an enormous airplane without the engine overheating and melting. A late chapter gets a little philosophical, weighing the gains and losses that precision has brought us as Winchester delves into the history of the Seiko Watch Company in Japan, where craft and precision work side by side. But what remains with me are the stories from Winchester’s life, as well as those of the men (yes, almost all men) who measured, tinkered and persevered to build, for better or worse, our ultraprecision-driven world.
PositiveBookPageThe book retraces Fairchild’s journeys and includes enough cultural and political history to situate the reader in early 20th-century America, though Stone does not looking too closely at the ethics of Fairchild’s work, which sometimes involved stealing plants and seeds ... Despite occasionally awkward phrasing, The Food Explorer does a wonderful job bringing Fairchild’s story to life and giving this American original some overdue recognition.