RaveBookreporterThere are short stories that give you a slice of a character’s life, just a moment in time, and then there are short stories that draw you in fully and bring you into a rich and complete emotional world. The stories in Brandon Taylor’s collection, Filthy Animals, fall into the latter category. It is not just because they are often connected, allowing readers to meet characters and encounter them again later; it is because Taylor masterfully creates the interior spaces of his figures and balances them with compelling exterior settings and circumstances ... often dark, especially in the title piece, where a high school party goes horribly awry. There is hope here as well, often more vested in the reader than the characters themselves, who struggle with mental and physical health issues, complicated relationships with family, partners and friends, and feelings of isolation and being different. In this shrewdly perceptive and impactful collection, Taylor delivers nuanced and rich stories with a steady hand. His characters are multilayered, obviously flawed, powerful in ways they cannot realize, and all too real. This potent book, with its terrible violence and aching tenderness, is highly recommended.
RaveBookreporter... ferocious honesty and a cutting insight ... There are instances of gallows humor here as wel ... More than laughter, readers will find horror in these pages. But more than anything, they will find an abiding humanity shared in gorgeous writing and aching detail. This is such a rich and emotionally complex memoir that tackles not issues, but the real-life experiences of a person who cannot be so easily reduced. For Broome, clarity begins with a radical departure, following the path of James Baldwin to France and seeking out, as he writes to Tuan, possibilities that seem limitless. This hopeful note, which is not saccharine or naive, ties the knot of tenderness that threads through this often flinty book ... raw and beautiful, a wonder of writing and reflection, and an absolute marvel.
PositiveBookreporterHolahan’s latest domestic thriller, amps up tension and narrows focus to a brief and breathless period for Jade and Greg as they seek answers and chase shadows ... Holahan may not have succeeded in making her characters feel quite real. Both Jade and Greg are of a type: she is a young, beautiful influencer and blogger, and he is a rich, powerful, middle-aged man. Their flaws are more apparent than their positive qualities. Their brief relationship means they don’t have a history for Holahan to grapple with so much as a romance. It is hard to understand Jade’s attachment to Greg after a certain point in the narrative, but readers will want to stick around to see how this thriller resolves. Overall, Her Three Lives is an entertaining read. It is emotional and fast-paced with some good twists and a diverse cast.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
RaveBookreporterIn less than 70 pages, she grapples with her pain and chaos of grief, pays beautiful tribute to her father, and moves herself to be able to write about him in the past tense ... Adichie, with a narrative strength and a graceful style, moves from universal concerns like the inadequacies of pat condolences to the specifics of her father’s life and love ... This book is a personal record of this burden, this pain, and her attempt to hold it --- as if holding some part of her father --- even as she inevitably comes to terms with his death ... a candid exploration of a relatable loss. Adichie articulates her confusion and sorrow, her moments of unexpected peace sparked by memory, with an aching honesty and gorgeous prose. This is a book to read and revisit.
MixedBookreporterThe structure of the book is non-linear, which can feel muddled at times. Freitas chops up each narrative and skips back and forth in time. It is not always clear if readers are meant to see these lives as parallel realities, mere possibilities or thought experiments. The structure is elusive and open-ended, which can distract from the compelling and important themes ... Rose is an attractive character who is smart, honest and thoughtful. Freitas does a good job capturing the pressure women continue to feel to meet gendered expectations, even if her character ultimately bows to them. The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano is a provocative story that gets bogged down in some structural ambiguity and its unwillingness to allow Rose to reject the path that other characters want to put her on.
Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan
RaveBookreporterThe Babysitter is a captivating book that examines its setting as much as its characters. Rodman and Jordan go further in their research than anyone else has done on the Costa case and have located women whom Costa was believed to have killed decades ago. The story is gripping, tense, harrowing and balanced with a careful and thoughtful narrative style. The authors move it beyond mere entertainment and toward a challenging exploration of family and dysfunction. In the end, this is a story of Liza Rodman’s survival and strength. The Babysitter is a unique and welcome addition to both the true crime and memoir genres.
RaveBookreporterA tremendous book: deep, moody and dark, but not without a compelling breathlessness. Teen life, loneliness, sex, body issues, friendship, queerness and familial discord are all finely wrought. The minimalist prose and illustration are no less gorgeous for being sparse. Ali’s pain and her indifference are perfectly captured, and Harmon has threaded the right amount of pop culture into her tale. Pre-cell phones and social media, Ali, Justine and their cohorts pour through magazines to gaze on idealized images of women, watch skate videos again and again, ponder hip-hop lyrics, take whatever drugs they can, and navigate tenuous and exciting relationships. The tragedies here are shattering and mundane.
An uncommon and incomparable coming-of-age story punctuated with enchanting and evocative line drawings, Justine is a highly recommended debut novel.
RaveBookreporterWhile Last Call is about Rogers’ crimes, the heart of the book belongs to the victims, as Elon Green takes special care to maintain their humanity and dignity in this true-crime outing. Green’s writing is sensitive and powerful, and the tale he tells is compelling and tragic. The victims deserve to be remembered for who they were and not just how they died, and Green takes care to see that this is done...[and] provides a broad view of why homophobia continues to be a real and persistent threat. Overall, this is a fascinating addition to the genre, written with a literary style and uncommon tenderness.
RaveBookreporter... peculiar and bewitching ... Flanagan tells his story with a dreamy and fluid, almost rambling style that exposes a nightmare of responses to traumas both natural and expected, and those inflicted through willful harm and ignorance ... Anna and Terzo’s treatment of Francie and Tommy, whose stutter—and not his compassion, patience, competence and loyalty—is the lens through which the siblings see him, is cringe-inducing, and Flanagan wisely holds back much of the family dynamic and history. Readers are dropped down into a smoldering landscape, thick with smoke obscuring vision and easy interpretation. Cautionary and strange, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is a powerful rumination on frailty and mortality.
RaveBookreporter... explores the harm and danger of past and ongoing trauma, as well as the magic and possibility of a shared cultural perspective. Hobson deftly weaves the spirit world through the fabric of the lives in the novel, creating an elegant tension and highlighting both the sorrow of the Echota family and the beauty of their culture. Though rooted in --- and inseparable from --- the Cherokee culture, the book is also a complex, inventive and thoughtfully universal tale of love and longing.
RaveBookreporter... dark, sexy, insightful and achingly honest ... For a novel that digs into very real concerns about body image, eating, mental health and a variety of important relationships, Milk Fed has a dreamy quality that swings between fantasy and nightmare. It is lusty and explicit, and full of possibility. Broder does a good job of describing Rachel’s sexual and familial longings and how all of it --- food, mothering, loving --- gets tangled up for her. This is a smart, intense, wonderfully strange and erotic journey of freedom and love --- all kinds of love --- without conditions.
RaveBookreporterThere is not much action but a building sense of menace that is hard to pinpoint in Sarah Moss’ new novel, Summerwater. At first blush, this slim book is a series of character studies, and it is successful just as that. However, Moss drops hints here and there that something will go awry at the Scottish holiday park where her characters are vacationing ... The narrative is restrained and controlled, and the story is enigmatic, dark and elegant. The summer residents are as inhospitable as those in the legend that inspired Watson’s poem; they nurse hurts and prejudices as they navigate the murky depths of family, love, self and community. Thoughtful, introspective and powerful, Summerwater. is another great outing from Sarah Moss.
PositiveBookreporter... compelling ... These heart-swelling moments are crafted with pitch-perfect honesty and tenderness, but they are never saccharine ... a readable and brisk coming-of-age novel, and Michael is a fascinating character (Julia is also particularly well written). While the abrupt ending may leave readers wondering, it is quite enjoyable while it lasts. This is an absorbing, sympathetic and, at times, frightening look at secrets and revelations, and growing up with trauma and with love.
RaveBookreporterIn presenting this entertaining \'what if\' of a novel, Gross also asks readers to think critically about modernity and identity, community and transformation, and the meaning of home. He ponders cultural and familial inheritance and the modern condition, even while telling a delightfully improbable story. In the tradition of tall tales, The Lost Shtetl is silly and wondrous yet thoughtful and smart. Gross’ narrative is sprawling and still controlled --- engaging, funny and heartbreaking all at once. Only the authorial or editorial condition to unnecessarily footnote Jewish terms and Polish vocabulary may take readers out of this world ... Gross’ questions and answers here are profoundly Jewish, but they parallel so many universal concerns about what is lost and what is gained as nations and communities are impacted by the gifts and horrors brought with the march of time and as individuals are altered by the joys and aches of love.
Elissa R. Sloan
PositiveBookreporter...immensely readable ... an absorbing book—a page-turner despite its heaviness. There are some interesting surprises even if the characters aren’t always depicted in as much depth as readers may like ... this well-plotted novel heralds the arrival of a promising writer.
RaveBookreporter... a book that is both a healing and a reckoning ... an affecting memoir, to say the least. Harding recounts the horror of her kidnapping and assault, as well as painful episodes from her childhood, with a practiced detachment and still manages an intimate writing style. Her honesty is impressive as she explores her family dynamic, its longstanding effects and how it exacerbated the ordeal she suffered at Goodwin’s hands. The greater terror, threat and betrayal by far is what came from her parents, not the stranger ... It may be odd to say that such a harrowing true story is a page-turner, but it is. Harding’s narrative is strong and compelling, well-paced and brutal. But it is not without optimism, love and, if not forgiveness or understanding, at least a willingness to attend to a variety of perspectives ... This highly recommended work of nonfiction is a gripping account of faith, family, survival and the power of self.
RaveBookreporter... astonishing ... a magnificent novel. Loskutoff’s prose is masterful, and his character-driven tale moves at an easy pace but is threaded with bloodshed and brutality. Throughout the Bitterroot Valley --- and as Ruthie continues to seek solace --- frustration, fear and sorrow manifest as violence and anger. Loskutoff allows the moments of tenderness in nature and humanity to hit readers like a sledgehammer. The end of the novel sprints toward a moralistic message but does so in a fantastical, almost surreal way ... In the Bitterroot Valley, like everywhere, the balance of nature is fragile, and worlds both internal and external hide terrible and splendid depths. Ruthie Fear is a proud, charming and compelling field guide to those depths.
PositiveBookreporterBonner is a poet, but the book is sparse and straightforward in its descriptions of people and action and is never lacking in grace. She strips the narrative down to the bones with no extraneous words or flowery illustrations. She writes with obvious restraint and caution, leaving readers with a trim and solemn remembrance of her unhappy, unwell, enigmatic and charismatic sister ... a tribute to a sister lost long before her death, and an examination of a woman’s spiral into darkness, danger and self-harm. Bonner honestly explores her feelings for both Nancy and Atlantis, though this is not to say that they were distinct figures in any way. In her grief is confusion, sorrow, anger and relief ... a gripping, if ultimately frustrating, read. Gripping because Bonner captures the best in Atlantis, as well as the most horribly compelling. Frustrating because there is little resolution to Atlantis’ tale, and her life, as depicted by her sister, seems on the whole to have been one of pain. It is difficult to pinpoint any substantial truths in this muddy tale: Either Atlantis was a suicidal drug addict who was in deep legal trouble, or she was at the mercy of a shadowy psychopath. Bonner is unsure, and readers will be as well. Still, there are some interesting insights here about family, hurt, loss and absolution.
PositiveBookreporter... timely and readable ... great fun, with some insightful reflection on gender, power, religion and agency. More than anything, it is a thriller; readers are privy to the perspectives of Cole, Miles and Billie in this action-packed yet thoughtful novel. It is a wild chase from coast to coast, and Beukes nicely balances the violence, not to mention the depictions of head-wounded Billie, with the emotional trauma the characters experience. But it is also a coming-of-age story as Miles grapples with puberty and identity in a world where his true self is both threatening and precious ... The world has changed drastically, but much has stayed the same, and it is in that dichotomy that Beukes’ really interesting ideas shine.
RaveBookreporter... a compellingly rendered coming-of-age story with complex characters set in the winding streets and timeless neighborhoods of Naples ... This is a novel as intense and ferocious as it is gentle and poignant. Ferrante’s prose is lovely and frank, and her characters are nuanced and real, not always likable. It wrestles with the central question of what it means to be beautiful in all the various senses of the word and will leave readers with much to contemplate and consider.
RaveBookreporter... a rich, strange and darkly sensuous tale of autonomy and sorority ... a slim book, yet it is emotionally weighty, full of evocative images, anguish, sorrow, and an intense feeling of foreboding and retrospective misery. Johnson handles all of this well with her beautiful language, perfectly paced revelations and affecting insights ... a mad, waking nightmare, and Johnson expertly explores the line between affection and enmity, the fragility of familial bonds, and the possibility --- but not the promise --- of healing. She has a talent for capturing uncertainty and pain while allowing readers to admire her narrative loveliness. Here the use of the unreliable perspective of the narrator is well employed and unpretentious. This is a great novel that is well-conceived and fantastically executed. It is haunting and weird, with mysterious and frightening elements couched in a coming-of-age tale.
PositiveBookreporter... so timely, it’s spooky. For a horror writer, what could be better? ... fast-paced yet thoughtful ... Tremblay employs a few conceits --- for example, a prelude, an interlude and a \'postlude\' --- that are distinctly presented but don’t actually seem that different narratively from the rest of the novel. Overall, however, the book feels cohesive, and is well-paced and entertaining, if not totally original in concept. Both Natalie and Ramola are strong and interesting characters. Tremblay gives readers just enough of their backstories to flesh them out but doesn’t slow down or burden what is really an action-driven tale of survival. They are the center of the story, and there are few other characters introduced ... an enjoyable and exciting diversion.
Jean Kyoung Frazier
RaveBookreporterJean Kyoung Frazier captures that sense of apathy and emotional drift in her debut novel ... Even the loving characters are realistically imperfect, and that imperfection makes them compelling ... The book is more witty than funny, and dark without being oppressive. Frazier’s tone is earnest and sincere, and Jane has a charming innocence ... Provocative and fraught, often bitter and sometimes sweet, Pizza Girl gives readers some tough crust to chew on and heralds a strong new voice in fiction.
Nicola Maye Goldberg
MixedBookreporterNicola Maye Goldberg plays with the dead girl trope, offering something interesting without quite subverting it ... The novel is a breathless series of introductions and hasty departures as we meet each of Goldberg’s interesting characters briefly and then quickly move on ... has a gentle prose style. Goldberg lets her characters move about in their emotions in a realistic manner. Any of them would’ve warranted a longer exposition. In shifting the core of the tale from Sara to everyone else, Goldberg takes a risk. On the one hand, it means that the violence that Sara, who is the last character we meet, experienced on a random night spent with a friend leaving for college is neutralized. On the other hand, it means that the violence is made permanent. Readers are left in an uncomfortable place, though not necessarily in the way Goldberg intended ... Goldberg has great insights and deftly handles her characters, even if the novel itself doesn’t coalesce.
RaveBookreporterParakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino is garnering a lot of attention and is deserving of all the accolades and buzz. Surreal and slippery, brimming with emotion, it is hard to characterize and summarize ... This is a tremendous novel. Bertino’s style and vision are fresh and singular. There is plenty of wry humor and blistering insight ... Parakeet is smart and tender, tough and weird, provocative and totally enjoyable.
MixedBookreporter... atmospheric ... such an unusual book. The device of special school as a place of both revelation and terror is nothing new. Thomas’ prose is pensive and moody, embodied by Ines herself. This is an eerie tale with most questions left unanswered. Ines and readers learn enough to be worried and afraid, but are lulled by the decaying richness and sumptuous yet controlled comforts of Catherine House. Thomas does such interesting work as the fictional place and her writing style share so much: gorgeous details masking dread, uncertainty and awe ... What exactly is Catherine House about? It is hard to say. Thomas is examining pain and depression, fear and loneliness, the siren song of success and discovery. But she gives very little to her characters, and thus to her readers, by way of answers. Instead, we, like Ines, are dropped into the middle of a nightmarish three-year journey that may lead to realization, to something quite terrible indeed, or, honestly, to nowhere in particular. The writing and setting are compelling, and the emotions swing between visceral and dulled in this curious coming-of-age story.
RaveBookreporter... a compelling and affecting short story collection ... all stand successfully alone as insightful and perceptive slices of emotional life ... The stories themselves are arranged in a rough chronological order of when they were written, which gives the book an interesting sweep and scope ... a wonderful collection. The stories, even those that represent L’Engle’s early career, are finely crafted and have a modernist attention to the complexity and allusive nature of human feelings coupled with a postmodern detachment. Many are sorrowful and aching, even tragic. All are provocative and remarkable.
RaveBookreporter... complex and beautifully rendered ... both utterly realistic and full of magic ... Hudson’s novel hums with danger, violence and tension ... The Judge easily could veer toward the comical, but in him Hudson creates a terrifying symbol of oppression, close-minded religiosity, and horrific yet alluring power ... a fantastic book and a difficult read that is brutal, potent, and full of sadness and passion. Contrasting doubt and belief, will and passivity, fear and strength, it is insightful, weird and mysterious, containing just the right amount of sweetness and wonder amidst what is otherwise quite scary
Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
PositiveBookreporterFink and Cranor do a terrific job bringing the Woman to life (no pun intended) and giving Night Vale fans her backstory. And one need not be an aficionado of the series to enjoy this book ... This is a fun and compelling adventure with plenty of strangeness, and a thoughtful exploration of the kinds of emotions that impact decisions in life...and perhaps beyond. Sweet, smart and sorrowful, funny and bizarre, it is a fantastic contribution to the Welcome to Night Vale universe, and an enjoyable story about morality, mortality, and the powerful and complex connections we humans create.
MixedBookreporterThis is a curious book. Harrison puts much effort into telling readers just who her characters are psychologically, which is mostly compelling. However, Elise in particular is an inconsistent figure. That may be less of Harrison’s fault and more about the way characters in similar novels act against their own best interest, unwilling to see evil for what it is. The supernatural elements are piled on heavily at the end, and Harrison is not interested in really explaining the source of Julie’s transformation. There are some eerie scenes, and the Red Honey Hotel is somehow both menacing and comical ... It would miss the mark to categorize this as a horror novel; it is much more about a particular set of friends who experience horror. The four share a kind of banter or repartee that seems a bit young for them, and each of them is definitely of a type. They are love ’em or hate ’em kinds of characters ... offers readers some promising ideas and genuine scares, but ultimately is not as cohesive as it could be. Still, it marks of the debut of a writer with a lot of potential.
RaveBookreporterThe potential for violence lurks on every page and erupts in assaults sadly mundane and shockingly horrific. Yet the story of Lou, a taxi driver of rapidly disintegrating mental and physical health, has moments of the sublime ... In Lou, Durkee has created a fascinatingly complex character. The Last Taxi Driver is not a long novel and speeds along at a brisk pace. Each chapter is almost a distinct vignette, some better than others, but the book is cohesive and tied together well. Readers will easily find many metaphoric interpretations in the physicality of Lou’s driving, but Durkee is not really heavy-handed with them. There is humor here...but the novel is also deadly serious. Durkee tackles race and poverty, violence of many varieties, loss and longing, and the power of the imagination. Lou’s excruciating day will make readers cringe, and the recounting of his traumas is more than unsettling. This is a dark, feverish and weird tale that remains compelling throughout.
PositiveBookreporterSeveral ancient religious cultures used scapegoat rituals to cast their sins from their midst. While Pew’s scapegoating in this more traditional sense becomes a bit more understood by the end of this slim novel, by that point it is obvious that Pew has been burdened by the sins of the community the whole week. There is not a lot of clarity in Pew, but there is much insight --- insight into the fluidity of identity, the hypocrisy of the fanatical, the lasting effects of trauma, and the horrific power of hate, fear and complacency. Lacey references other writers and looks obliquely but unblinkingly at issues of race, gender, power and religion in the U.S. ... may leave some readers dissatisfied. Because Pew is so enigmatic and Lacey doesn’t allow Pew to be quite anything at all, the already dark story veers to the dystopian, even as it is firmly set in the here and now. There is a lot to unpack and puzzle out in Pew, and readers surely will come to their own conclusions about the culmination of the story. Overall, this is a worthwhile read, both frustrating and compelling, and written with an interesting, quite literary style and a provocative thoughtfulness.
MixedBookreporter... an intense read. Bieker zooms in on a small and insular community, though she presents some compelling universal themes about control and freedom, hope and despair. However, it might be that she includes too much by half: incest, suicides, prostitution, addiction, mania, teen pregnancies, cults, bizarre taxidermy, God glitter, gun violence, and a bull penis cane. She drops readers into a surreal, or perhaps hyperreal, nightmarish world where time seems to have stopped and the sense of dislocation is total. Yes, Central California raisin farms have been hit by years of terrible drought. And the recent California fires are all too real. But there are frighteningly fantastical elements here, baptisms in gallons of soda to name just one, that can become a distraction from the story Bieker is telling ... As a cult leader, Vern is both typical and really over the top. Bieker asks readers to jump to the conclusions of why his followers in Gifts of the Spirit church would go along with his awful plans, but doesn’t always explain the mechanisms of cult psychology. While their poverty and fear are palpable, it is interesting that the only real rebels are two teenage girls. Thank goodness for Lacey, a finely written narrator, who helps readers sort out the messiness and weirdness of the tale ... dark, to say the least, and flawed in some aspects, but Bieker clearly has a lot of interesting things to say. Readers willing to immerse themselves in a novel where real hardships and suffering take some unreal turns will be rewarded with an engrossing story.
PositiveBookreporterIf this all sounds a bit over the top, don’t worry. Come Tumbling Down is the latest installment in Seanan McGuire’s fantastic Wayward Children series, and the magic, marvels and murder are all handled with poetry, grace and humor ... a lovely addition to this fantasy series. The writing is as strong as ever, even when the story is a bit less compelling. Readers who have been with Jack and Jill since the impressive Down Among the Sticks and Bones will not be disappointed in the resolutions McGuire offers --- though admittedly the confrontation between the body-switched sisters is less dramatic than one might expect. Other Wayward characters get moments in the spotlight, too ... At first blush, this short novel (with four nice black-and-white illustrations by Rovina Cai) is all about a quick and daring adventure to right some wrongs and address long-simmering sibling rivalries. But McGuire also asks readers to ponder some complex questions and unpack themes, such as loyalty, bravery, identity and the meaning of home. Come Tumbling Down is a real pleasure to read.
PositiveBookreporterPorter is unpacking themes of grief and the feelings that make us fully human. This is a slender novel, sharp-witted and often tender. Trina, stubborn and pragmatic, romantic and disillusioned, is a relatable navigator through the new world that Porter imagines. Her loss and sorrow, her love and memories, transcend the alien weirdness in which the story is set. Still, that alien weirdness is incredibly entertaining, even if Trina’s shifts and growth are the center of the novel ... Porter has a wonderfully light style that belies the serious subject matter she takes on here. This makes for a thoughtful and amusing book --- stranger than aliens because it is about the human condition.
PositiveBookreporterThough coverage of Knotek and her crimes was not as sensational or well publicized as other similar cases, the details are equally horrific. Providing her three daughters, as well as other family members, a platform to share their memories and emotions sets If You Tell apart from traditional true-crime stories ... the aim is far from behavioral analysis, and readers are left to try to understand Shelly’s motivations as a child and especially as an adult when her abuse of others turned deadly ... Shelly named her three daughters Nikki, Sami and Tori. The real heart of the book is their resilience and strength throughout years of terrible abuse, including the suffering of Shelly’s other victims, which they witnessed and were often forced to be a part of ... The details of the abuse and crime are almost unbelievable. The power of sisterhood (not to mention the unconditional love of Lara toward the three sisters) on display here is amazing and inspiring. Olsen gives Nikki, Sami and Tori the space on the page to unpack, explain and wrestle with their feelings for their mother. It is fascinating to witness as a reader ... those looking for analysis of the criminal mind or legal procedural details won’t find them here. Still, If You Tell accomplishes what it sets out to do. The result is a compelling portrait of terror and a powerfully honest, yet still sensitive, look at survival.
Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes
PositiveBookreporterSolomon’s fantasy is more evocative than descriptive, so a suspension of disbelief is requisite ... Even while exploring the historical and the collective, Solomon manages to render Yetu and her experiences singular and specific ... a challenging read, unique in its telling and provocative in its themes. Solomon’s prose is powerful and delicate --- a poetic and insightful examination of violence, racism, pain, memory and identity. There is a hopefulness here, and the book is not without beauty. Occasionally the passage of time and Yetu’s space in the story become muddled, so readers need to concentrate. Solomon evokes Yetu’s world with a stark honesty held tightly by a compelling lyrical style. Dreamy and still confrontational, The Deep is a moving tale of transformation.
RaveBookreporter... part fantasy, part science, part nonsense and totally intriguing ...There is a tenderness in this book, but it struggles to surface, buried as it is by the characters who are willing to trade it for momentary delights. And it is in that struggle that Wright’s story shines. While Processed Cheese is an absurdist look at late-stage capitalism, it is also a funky romance with two compelling, if mostly enigmatic, central figures ... Wright’s tale is set in a place somewhere between a comic book and a video game. It is quite bawdy, though only occasionally really graphic ... Cleverness abounds in Processed Cheese, and sometimes Wright may be overly dazzled by his own word play and overly committed to his style. Still, this satire, like Ambience’s marksmanship, hits the target more often than not. The bond between Graveyard and Ambience is never in doubt, and if not for their redeeming qualities --- even if obscured by their frenzied response to the cash windfall --- the novel would be much more bleak. Most of the characters here are lonely, and their drug-sex-stuff-filled lives only highlight their lack of control in a society where they are little more than consumers.
MixedBookreporter... a dark and dramatic coming-of-age tale fueled by sorrow, loss, anger, uncertainty and revenge ... This is no happy ending adolescent drama. Lowe never lets her readers or her characters relax or feel totally at ease. Threats loom large on every page ... Lowe’s novel is gothic in its details and baroque in its style. With Violet as the narrator, the book is emotional, dense, emotionally fraught, jumpy and at times overwritten. It is replete with literary and artistic allusions and references, and Lowe uses them wisely to connect ideas, though the plot itself is not as tightly knit as it could be ... From the boarding school setting to the teenage destruction to the fierce female magic, there is not a lot that is totally unique here. Still, as far as moody teen suspense goes, The Furies will satisfy many readers with its girl power gone terribly awry.
RaveBookreporterGundar-Goshen writes with a straightforward style punctuated by striking poetic observations ... The chapters are short, giving insight into the troubled state of several characters ... This moral ambiguity is so compelling and finely handled that readers will be both hoping for and dreading when the various truths come to light ... The Liar is a thoughtful, entertaining, wise and honest novel. Sondra Silverston\'s translation is light-handed and lovely.
PositiveBookreporter... incredibly honest ... The transcripts of Vanasco’s taped conversations with Mark might not be the most provocative aspects of the memoir. Her unique style --- questioning and probing, written in a deceptively simple voice, honest and thoughtful --- makes Things We Didn\'t Talk About When I Was a Girl read like a very intimate conversation ... Readers are lucky to be privy to her thoughts and struggles as she seeks understanding, if not forgiveness, and peace, if not resolution, for this and many other acts of violence against her and the women in her life --- indeed, the women in all of our lives ... not a political book or a work of sociological or psychological research. However, perhaps with more and more courageous voices like Vanasco’s, we can begin to find ways to prevent future incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and to provide support and non-judgmental healing for its survivors. This is a hard book to read, both because of the violence it discusses and because of the frankness with which Vanasco addresses the topic and her own experiences. As a narrator, she is both frustrating and appealing; as a memoirist, she is sincere and sound.
RaveBookreporter... Williams describes the rain with such rhythm and grace as to render the whole chapter a poem ... While the startling brevity of the first chapter piques the interest, starting with the second chapter, Williams’ prose soars as it draws readers into Faha and introduces the colorful characters who live there ... Faha itself is vibrant and alive ... a contemplative novel that explores a web of themes, resulting in an insightful examination of the shared human experience and a pondering of life’s big questions ... What makes This is Happiness so exceptional is Williams’ gorgeous and astute style, and his brilliant observations on the human condition --- that which is universal and that which is particularly Irish. This book cannot be recommended enough; it is lovely and authentic, heartbreaking yet joyful, immersive and canny, and an absolute delight to read.
RaveBookreporter\"Ashline does a great job describing the slow, and then incredibly rapid, Word of Life transformation from a church to a cult. Because the Irwins documented everything they did, she was able to draw from hours and hours of videos, text messages, journals and more ...
Without a Prayer is terrifying stuff, and Ashline’s clear journalistic narrative style never gets in the way of the story she is telling. There are a lot of characters here and a great deal of action, not to mention the steadily increasing tension that is key to the events. Ashline has control of it all, resulting in a fascinating, heartbreaking and fraught page-turner. The moments in which the book slows down or becomes repetitive are few and far between. More exploration of the distinction between churches and cults would’ve been useful. Still, because Lucas is kept at the center of the book, it remains cogent and cohesive ... Ashline avoids easy judgments in favor of letting the story unfold and the evidence speak for itself ... a powerful and absorbing contribution to the libraries of true crime, sociology and long-form journalism.\
MixedBookreporterZink packs a lot into this book, and some streamlining may have been in order. She has a story to tell here, but perhaps not a point to make, and she doesn’t give readers much opportunity to really empathize with the characters. Pam, Daniel, Joe and Flora are given stuff to do, but they often fail to respond in authentic ways, so the novel sometimes feels flat. Zink could’ve given them all much more emotional power, and the story would’ve been stronger for it. All this is not to say that Doxology isn’t worth reading. It is entertaining and timely, full of winking references to music, art, politics and contemporary culture. Zink’s writing style is quirky—descriptive and funny, but holding characters, and thus readers, at a distance.
PositiveBookreporterPaul Tremblay not only gives readers a diverse collection of short stories, but asks them to think about writing, genre and the role of the author in ways that challenge his own power as creator without sacrificing style or skill. The 19 stories here move beyond a narrow understanding of horror, opting often for sensation, thoughtfulness, and an exploration of fear itself over jump scares and gore. There are moments when the veil is lifted, and Tremblay seems to reveal himself, which is never distracting but intriguing. Thus it is a very writerly collection that still is enjoyable for readers ... as with all collections, not every story is a winner ... Even as characters discuss the pros and cons of horror world building, the marketability of short story collections, and the role and responsibility of authors themselves, Tremblay, in examining these big literary questions, entertains. Growing Things is a provocative book, showing some of the ways that horror and other genres can be thoughtful, wide-reaching and literary.
RaveBookreporter... is in good company and holds its own, giving readers a dark, strange and original look at the perils of motherhood and the heaviness of maternal love ... Phillips brings together Molly and Moll in such an arresting, terrifying and finely crafted manner ... imaginative and beautifully written, but really quite scary as well. Despite its otherworldly ideas and speculative concepts, it is rooted in the real difficulties of mothering, even in the most loving and supportive of situations. Phillips perfectly captures the various elements of daily life with small children ... a fantastic novel. It is sharp and smart, real and impossible, wise, weird, and full of important and uncomfortable truths.
RaveBookreporter\"What at first seems like a desolate western landscape turns out to be populated by compelling and complicated characters, as well as uniquely beautiful flora and fauna and majestic vistas ... Inland is a masterful novel, drawing on the grand traditions of the western genre and expressing universal emotions. And yet, Obreht delivers a unique tale full of surprises, elegance and artistry.\
Joyce Carol Oates
RaveBookreporterIn , Oates favors response over insight, emotion over analysis. The Kerrigans, apart from Violet, are representative types more than fully fleshed-out characters. But they feel terrifyingly real as they refuse to take responsibility for their own actions and crimes, choosing instead to banish Violet ... Oates’ idiosyncratic style is dreamy in its breathless tenderheartedness and just as often nightmarish in its honest detailing of a variety of abuses, prejudices and violence. Race, gender, family loyalty: Oates tackles them all here. Like Violet’s vision of her family, My Life as a Rat is painfully sharp but fuzzy around the edges. A beautiful and frightening novel, even with its gaps and liberties taken, it leaves readers with a sorrow and a cautious hope for Violet’s survival.
RaveBookreporterWhereas Woolf examined issues like gender and genius in her work with a realistic and steady hand, Awad tackles some of the same themes with a fantastically surreal and disorienting style. The book is clever and not above a bit of silliness...It is also full of dark magic, violence and terror, making it deliciously dangerous and deadly serious ... hard to describe but easy to recommend. Awad balances very well the absurdly funny with razor-sharp and serious insight. The book would make Woolf proud in its scathing look at female relationships and gendered expectations, and delight Kafka with its weird honesty. Samantha is a frustrating cipher, but Awad’s writing is so charming and strong, luminous and smart, uncompromising and mischievous, that even the Bunnies would be jealous.
MixedBookreporter... a postmodern delight ... Winterson throws so much at readers in this bold and challenging book ... None of this is what Mary Shelley imagined when she cautioned about the responsibility of scientists and other creators, but Winterson takes her ideas where others have taken them before: to the dangerous prospect of science and invention run amok. Here those prospects, and their literary inspiration, are couched in a strange, compelling, philosophical and at times fractured vision ... By the end, Winterson’s cast has explored some important and tough questions from various points of view, sometimes with a dead seriousness and at other times with an over-the-top comic effect ... really this is a novel of ideas more so than plot ... The book is best when it inhabits Mary Shelley’s poetic world. It careens a bit wildly in the Ry Shelley sections, and is somewhat muddled at times in the last quarter of the story. This is a challenging work, in terms of both style and ideas. Winterson is clearly having fun, even if the themes here are quite serious.
RaveBookreporter... beautiful and strange prose ... The alchemical part of Middlegame, Asphodel and Reed’s actual powers and intentions, is never quite clear. But McGuire’s writing style is so strong and interesting that plot holes and some world-building weaknesses are easily forgiven ... imaginatively conceived, carefully constructed, fantastically written and offers such thoughtful insights on themes like love, power, sacrifice and intelligence. Roger and Dodger are compelling and fully human as children and young adults, navigating the world as often lonely prodigies. They are fascinating and fearsome as mighty, dynamic and preternatural pawns in an ultimate struggle. When the story and context falter a bit, McGuire’s characters --- the twins and Erin --- do the heavy lifting and keep the novel fun and engaging ... another delightful and captivating outing from Seanan McGuire.
RaveBookreporter[A] captivating and thoughtful debut novel ... The book’s tone is somewhere between dreamy and nightmarish, and Dektar does a fantastic job creating and maintaining that tension. The motivations for the characters are not always clear ... Yet the emotional intensity—and perhaps the strangeness—of the novel is compelling even without those insights ... a lovely book and a scary story. Dektar’s writing and vision bring brightness to an otherwise dark tale.
PositiveBook ReporterIt may be the case that Zoe represents that other horror trope: the hysterical woman ... may not hold much that is fully original in terms of themes or plot twists. But it is a fun, at times sexy, read with some real creepiness and a few good surprises. Merritt chose the Scottish cliffs well; the landscape contributes to the atmosphere and gives Zoe additional challenges to face. Her writing is interesting and evocative, with lovely phrasing and description. Overall, this is an enjoyable, if a bit contrived, scary story.
PositiveBookreporter\"... complex and cerebral ... The Silk Road is not an easy novel, but it is compelling and smart, full of big ideas and still focused on tiny details. Mesmerizing and dreamy, it warrants a second, even a third, reading.\
PositiveBookreporter\"... sharp, sexy and sad ... Vacuum in the Dark is wacky, wicked and funny on the surface but roiling below with danger and deep seriousness. Beagin’s writing style is breezy and light, and Mona is delightful and witty. This makes for enjoyable reading but ensures that the punches the book packs are hard-driving and always on target ... This is a very good, original and human-hearted novel.\
MixedBookreporter\"However, in the end, Early Riser is a bit disjointed and confusing, though still often funny and insightful ... [The book] can feel a bit chaotic and hard to manage, even though it is so intriguing. Overall, this is a great tale, overburdened and maybe overwritten, but compelling enough to shine in some cool ways ... Dedicated and diligent readers will find much to savor in Early Riser.\
PositiveBookreporter\"... dreamy and violent ... This is a beautiful novel with imaginative and rich language, and fascinating, enigmatic characters living in a sparse, tense and strange world ... Even with lingering questions and a hazy resolution, The Water Cure is highly recommended. The haunting story plays with dystopian, feminist and filial themes, and the writing is often breathtaking. This impressive debut heralds a striking new literary talent.\
RaveBookreporterGhost Wall is captivating: tense, menacing, wild and heart-rending. Moss’ style is lovely and breathless, perfectly suited to Silvie’s first person narration. The tension builds slowly and steadily over the course of the story, which finishes up at just 130 pages. The climax is no less terrible for its predictability. Bill is a classic villain of a certain type, and Silvie’s mother is less developed than she would’ve been in a longer or more traditional novel. Molly is a wonderful character used by Moss to contrast Silvie and to highlight the hope and strength Silvie is discovering in herself. A compelling and unique coming-of-age tale, Ghost Wall is a chilling story that is beautifully written and unforgettable.
RaveBookreporter\"Rooney makes the mundane beautiful and examines the human experience in fresh and provocative ways, rendering it all extraordinary yet relatable. She unpacks the subtleties of relationships, at least of particular kinds of relationships, showing the dangers and pleasures of love and sex, and presents issues of class with honesty and a fresh writing style. The dialogue feels personal and real, and the points of view of each main character, which at times are in conflict, challenge the reader to examine those perspectives in various ways ... The honesty found in Normal People is almost confrontational, which is wonderful. It is an old-fashioned literary romance stripped of anything saccharine or overly poetic. This is a book to savor and devour, full of the often overlooked wisdom of youth and intelligence of passion.\
PositiveBook ReporterA bold and lovely graphic biography ... visually arresting...a well-balanced, tense and engrossing narrative ... Krimstein’s original look at Arendt --- thoughtful, entertaining and provocative --- will answer a number of questions and inspire many others.
Rave20SomethingReadsFallenberg does a marvelous job crafting a perspective both strong and suspect. Seemingly innocent remarks, ideas or acts become ominous in hindsight as a pattern of instability (and perhaps worse) is revealed. The Parting Gift is sexy and tense, full of danger and uncertainty. In some ways, it is the story of lust turning to love and then turning cold. But it is also a chilly psychological thriller. The arrogant and slick letter writer constantly teases and mocks Adam, and while he says he wants to be honest, it seems he has ulterior motives. He is manipulative, and the letter itself is vaguely threatening. Fallenberg has important points to make, and he does so with a style that is both concise and lyrical. The Parting Gift examines relationships of all kinds, as well as themes of masculinity, identity and otherness, hypocrisy, and the power of sex and jealousy. Readers are free to decide what the parting gift is: the letter, the knowledge, the near-threats and offers made to Adam. Full of the scents, sounds and vistas of Israel, this is a fascinating, commanding and fantastic read.
RaveBookreporterFallenberg does a marvelous job crafting a perspective both strong and suspect ... The Parting Gift is sexy and tense, full of danger and uncertainty. In some ways, it is the story of lust turning to love and then turning cold. But it is also a chilly psychological thriller ... Fallenberg has important points to make, and he does so with a style that is both concise and lyrical ... a fascinating, commanding and fantastic read.
PositiveBookreporter\"White Dancing Elephants, the debut short story collection from Chaya Bhuvaneswar, is a rich and lovely look at the diversity of love ... An insightful, provocative and thoughtful book, White Dancing Elephants gives readers much to ponder and much to savor.
RaveBookreporter...chilling and totally unforgettable ... The brilliance and fun of Stephen Giles\' debut work of adult fiction is the ambiguity and shades of gray ... This psychological thriller keeps readers guessing from the soft start, through the creepy build, until the end, and then surprises with some hard punches. The writing style is brisk and stark ... Giles deftly handles his claustrophobic story, allowing readers just enough of the two possibly disturbed pole-star characters to draw them in close and still hold them at bay ... a captivating examination of love, loyalty, loss and imagination.
RaveBookreporterThis unstated and unexpected intimacy, created in her work, is what ties together the 12 related stories in Lydia Millet’s new short story collection. Like much of Millet’s previous work, Fight No More is thoughtful, sharply intelligent, strange and funny, yet at turns dark and even frightening ... Fight No More starts out good and by the end is totally fantastic ... Millet’s storytelling is amazing, from her pacing to her plotting to her original style and phrasing. This is a riveting collection.
RaveBookreporter.comOne Perfect Lie, the latest thriller from bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, peels back the untruths, hurts and wounds of Central Valley’s residents as the plot races toward its dramatic climax ...Scottoline turns the perspective of One Perfect Lie on its head by revealing that Brennan’s identity is totally different from what readers (not to mention the characters in the novel) were led to believe ... Scottoline’s style is brisk and no-nonsense, with an emphasis on decision, action and thought, and rarely slowing down for detailed description ...is tense and enjoyable, if at times simplistic and pat. Scottoline creates some good suspense as truths about the characters are revealed.
RaveBookreporter.comA Visit from the Goon Squad is complicated and complex, but because it addresses some of life's big questions, it is philosophically compelling and universal. The particulars of each character are unique, yet the themes remain the same. Despite the occasional fragmentation of the story, the exploration of identity, music and time make for a melodic and intelligent novel.