PositiveThe Manhattan Book ReviewTouted as a novel about Talitha Getty, the book is really about Claire/Cece and her journey of self-discovery. It posits the following question: what happens when we get what we’ve always wanted and it turns out to not be what we want at all? The twists in the book are foreseeable and the characters are often flat renderings of famous figures, although the descriptions of the era and the sumptuousness of Morocco are absolutely stunning.
Zora Neale Hurston, Ed. by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Genevieve West
RaveThe Seattle Book Review... a must read, even though the collection is daunting. At four hundred pages, with an additional fifty pages of notes, the book isn’t attempting to be easily digestible in size or scope. Split into five sections, some essays read very quickly ... Those in Part One: On the Folk and Part Five: The Trial of Ruby McCollum have the same snap and speed as Hurston’s fiction. The other three sections—On Art and Such; On Race and Gender; On Politics—are headier works and reveal an observant and critical mind at work at the turn of the Harlem Renaissance that has not been given the credit she is due. Hurston should be lauded in the same way as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, but she often isn\'t ... Those who teach read and teach Hurston will likely fall in love with this book, as I did, but even if you’ve never encountered her, You Don’t Know Us Negroes is an important read that chronicles a time and place in America that is most often viewed through the white, male lens. Thank heavens Hurston gives us another perspective.
PositiveThe San Francisco Book ReviewTo enjoy this book, you must be comfortable with a first-person narrator who isn’t comfortable with herself...Her moments of self-reflection, however, are couched within memories that she never quite defines and riddled with a self-doubt that can be off-putting as she notes she is more of a witness to her own life than an active participant ... There are lovely, sad little revelations peppered throughout the novel, and Strout is at her best when she’s working through family trauma, but this might be a bit much for someone looking for a light read. However, if you want a character study of an older woman navigating life on her own, Oh William! is the book for you.
PositiveThe Seattle Book ReviewOut of the royal eye and left to her own devices, Marie discovers her power and becomes the leader she would never have been had she stayed at court. She learns the strengths and weakness of her sisters to build a religious empire of her own command. Her physical needs and carnal urges are satisfied by other sisters and throughout it all her ugliness is ever present. I’m not sure why ... There are many brilliant passages in the book and the commentary on women’s power—particularly the way women tend to thwart one another—is timely and moving. But, time passes swiftly in The Matrix and that isn’t always a good thing. While the protagonist Marie is a proto-feminist and her accomplishments are staggering and impressive, the gaps in time and the journalistic style of the book can feel like a rush to reveal the next installment of Marie’s life rather than a deep and thorough exploration of her character.
PanSeattle Book ReviewIt is clear Toews is a strong writer who can craft a compelling narrative, but the stream-of-consciousness style wasn’t for me. It required a great deal of work to parse the voice of a nine-year-old, and while some may find that charming, I did not. I suppose Toews could be attempting to parallel how hard it is to grow up and live a happy life by making the reading of her book so challenging, but that parallel didn’t land in a positive way for me. That said, the three generations in the novel...do live a life that can be interesting at times. The descriptive detail was lacking to the point of making it hard to picture the world in which they live and the characters themselves. The ending was entirely predictable given the conceit of the letters, and while it did take the position that growing up is tough for everyone, that universal truth was not rendered in a compelling way.
Joyce Carol Oates
MixedThe Seattle Book ReviewOates’ own husband died of pneumonia a decade ago, and one can only imagine the horror of watching him die was part of the inspiration for this book. It is difficult to read in places, especially as Michaela begins to unravel in her terror at the prospect of living without Gerard. The book moves in and out of varying points of view that can be hard to follow, though the effect is likely to make the reader as uncomfortable and out of sync as Michaela whose grief is deafening. It’s hard to give an overview of what exactly happens in this novel as the timeline isn’t linear ... For fans of Oates, there’s a value in reading the novel. And, I imagine, those interested in grief could find a compelling character study in Breathe. It isn’t for everyone, though, largely because the chaos and mess of Michaela’s life, in the wake of the last two years in America, may simply be too much to bear.
RaveSeattle Book ReviewRedolent with references and deep with imagery, Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth...is the kind of rich and challenging work readers have come to expect from the internationally known poet. The newest poems traffic beautifully in the language of the body, of blood and sweat and what it means to work, the toll labor takes, and the lives we construct as time passes us ... if you are considering this publication solely for new work, the book has little to offer ... If you are new to Komunyakaa, though, this is an excellent primer on one of the most important working American poets.
PositiveThe San Francisco Book ReviewThe dialogue is quick and the women are written with a range and vibrancy that nearly jumps off the page. But the true trial in reading the book is getting past the horrible people who populate it—it is very hard to like any of them, though Simon’s naivete could be endearing in the right light ... The latter part of the novel becomes over the top in a way that will certainly put off some readers, but there is a fun ridiculousness to be found in the thriller turn it takes. Gorgeously told through period detail, there are reasons to love The Vixen, but they are few and far between.
RaveSeattle Book ReviewDark, deeply personal, and wildly funny, the posthumous collection of essays by writer Jenny Diski...has something for everyone. This is not a book for the faint of heart; Diski tackles subjects as varied as mental health, child abuse, and cannibalism, but balances those against more lighthearted fair ... Her wit, though, makes the reading worth it ... For fans of dark and deep and thoughtful work, Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told? is a must-read.
RaveSeattle Book ReviewThe wedding of Sarah and Ali is a joining of two hearts and two families; it should be a joyous occasion, but the families are feuding and the unrest in Iran 2009 keeps the couple apart just as they are beginning their lives together. Their story is at the heart of Ehsaneh Sadr’s beautiful novel A Door Between Us ... A Door Between Us is an intriguing and detailed read that explores the culture and a pivotal political moment with which many Americans are not familiar. The book tells a tale of truth, family, and justice with a beautiful love story at its heart.
RaveThe San Francisco Book ReviewAs Maguire has so often done before with books like Wicked and Mirror Mirror, A Wild Winter Swan is a delight of fantasy and the grotesquely beautiful in all of us.
RaveManhattan Book ReviewIn Karen Russell’s recently reprinted novella, Sleep Donation , time is running out for Trish to do the right thing ... Twisted, strange, and beautiful, like all of her other work, Sleep Donation from Karen Russell is not to be missed.
Bobbie Ann Mason
RaveManhattan Book ReviewThe structure of the book is challenging at first, but once the story of young Ann moves to Stanford, it is hard not to get caught up in the energy of the Summer of Love. Ann’s life, as it was and is and could have been, is a perfect cypher for human experience as we age. We question if we have done all we can, reckon with the moments we’ve failed, and agonize over choices that weren’t as brave as we wish ... One of the purest joys of the book, though, is in Ann’s area of study: English. For English majors, or those enamored with their survey courses in college, or the average bibliophile, the literary references and jokes are an absolute joy ... Dear Ann is an engrossing and beautiful book that gives on every page.
PositiveSeattle Book Review... a lesson in observation and expression that seeks to move people to action and understanding ... there is a through line regarding Amos’s connection to what she calls the Muses and moments when she writes of communicating with the spirit of her dead mother that may put off readers uncomfortable with these New Age references. If, however, you want to read and revel in the creation of one of the most influential careers in alternative music of the last four decades, Resistance is the book for you.
RaveManhattan Book ReviewA clear inspiration to Doty, the book documents the relationship he feels with Whitman on the poetic and personal levels—a distinction that is nearly imperceptible as one is part of the other. As gay men, Whitman and Doty both navigated worlds that attempted to close them in. But their art and will and pure need to live authentically rendered them free. Doty draws the lines of that freedom with clarity and grace in What is the Grass ... As a teacher who has taught Whitman for nearly twenty years, and as a poet who loves both him and Doty, this book is a pure joy. But even those who have not read either writer can find something of themselves in Doty’s latest. It articulates the understanding we all share, the clear and direct connection between each of us that Whitman lived and breathed, and of which Doty now reminds us.
RaveThe San Francisco Book Review... a brilliant and magnificent work of pain, progress, and power ... Coates has taken the story of slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the horrific oppression of black people at the hands of whites, and turned it into an allegory for what we are capable of when we own our own stories and memories. The power of The Water Dancer lies in that reclamation, and it is a novel we need right now.
RaveThe Manhattan Book ReviewJust as the country grapples with the #MeToo movement, Lisa Lutz delivers a stab to the heart ... Set before social media became ubiquitous for teens, The Swallows capitalizes on the corners of the web that used to be where venom went to hide. As you read the book, you almost long for the days when misogyny was on the down-low ... For anyone who dreams of a day when \'boys will be boys\' is a thing of the past and sexual politics are equal, The Swallows is a rallying cry.
RaveThe San Francisco Book ReviewThese two stories illustrate the lengths to which those who are desperate will go to survive, even as the near-desert landscape seems to conspire against them. Part old-west novel, part document of the American experience, readers are taken on a journey they are not soon to forget in Obreht’s Inland.
RaveSan Francisco Book ReviewWhether you know her music or not, Ani Difranco’s memoir No Walls and the Recurring Dream is a compelling read. For those who’ve been listening to her for years, like me, it is an intimate look at someone you may think you know—from her music—but you really don’t ... Readers who expect page after page of epiphany will be disappointed; this isn’t that kind of book. Rather it is the soul of the writer laid bare as it formed ... She leaves you wanting more, so when you finish No Walls and the Recurring Dream you’re ready to start over with her.
RaveThe San Francisco Book ReviewAt each turn, the illustrations in this graphic memoir are filled with joy. Even as Malaka grapples with the difficulties she encounters, she is a curious, funny, and kind protagonist who you can’t help but root for and celebrate as you read. I Was Their American Dream is an excellent representation of a very particular way of growing up in America that is, even in its uniqueness, absolutely relatable and universal.
RaveThe San Francisco Book Review... pitch-perfect tension ... Russell presents real people struggling to find peace in worlds gone mad ... Russell’s prior books rattle with the same urgency and wit, but there is a sharpness in Orange World that pierces more deeply than her novels ... The stories in Orange World are not light and fluffy; they require attention and focus and introspection. This may be the greatest gift of Karen Russell’s collection: by making us confront the surreal, she dares us to look closer at ourselves.
Tatyana Tolstaya, Trans. by Anya Migdal
PositiveThe Manhattan Book Review\"Fans of the austere and detailed writing of Chekhov, Gogol, and Tolstoy will feel right at home while reading Tolstaya’s eighteen stories ... There are places in the text that feel a bit off, as though the translation from Russian to English resulted in some lost nuances. But, if you’re looking for an engaging, thought-provoking collection of stories that will feel both foreign and familiar, Aetherial Worlds is the book for you.\