RaveThe Boston GlobeWith Great Circle, it’s time to rewrite the book on Maggie Shipstead. Her writing still soars and dips with dizzying flair, but this time the dazzling prose is in the service of an expansive story that covers more than a century and seems to encapsulate the whole wide world. With detailed brilliance, she lavishes heart and empathy on every character (save one villain), no matter how small their role ... Shipstead’s prose is savory ... Even as Shipstead constructs her great circle she doesn’t hesitate to veer off course. There are close to 20 characters who are either fully fleshed out or at least sketched in with enough vibrancy that if you met one of them at a dinner party you’d feel like you’ve known them socially for years ... You’ll gladly follow the story as it turns and banks, trusting Shipstead to steer you back on course, weaving all the characters and ideas together as Marian, Jamie, and Caleb travel through the Depression, World War II, and beyond ... Even when the book loses some altitude during the war years, it always rights itself, its narrative momentum propelling you forward. Many authors attempting to create an epic falter at the end, losing control of the characters or the story, but Shipstead never wavers, pulls out a twist or two that feel fully earned, and then sticks the landing. After more than a year of a pandemic that grounded us all, Great Circle could not have arrived at a better time.
Les Payne and Tamara Payne
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesThis month, for the second time in a decade, a new biography strips away some of the mythmaking to bring a more nuanced Malcolm to the public ... The Dead Are Arising offers only a partial corrective to earlier works, an incremental turn in the long-evolving story of one of history’s most visible and confounding activists. Payne frequently revises or expands the historical record, offering the most detailed new account of Malcolm’s early years ... But the Paynes don’t touch Malcolm’s intimacies or examine his legacy. The book sometimes feels incomplete, leaving out crucial moments.
MixedThe Boston GlobeFrey is a woman with a potent sense of self and an unmatched ability for inventing and selling herself in a business world often skeptical of or hostile to women, especially those without pedigree or connections ... her story is really about her parents and her four older brothers and it is plenty moving and inspiring, without her overselling the complications ... Her memoir is often like this, both fascinating and frustrating ... Frey’s early years are riveting, without a trace of poverty porn or self-pity on the author’s part ... Those scenes are intensely memorable and make up for Frey often coming at the warped family dynamics sideways — especially the emotional and financial tensions between her parents ... vagueness diverts attention from a powerful narrative about a father losing control of the family over which he reigned ... Unfortunately, for much of the second half of the book Frey sidelines the shifting dynamic between her and her parents. There are other gaps in the story of how she builds her business from a girl and a truck to a company making deals with farmers and stores all over the country, including major chains like Walmart and Lowes. Yet the book maintains a delightful momentum, as she gets her brothers into the new family business, while defying stereotypes and staying true to herself and never losing sight of her mission.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeJames Nestor’s new book about how breathing properly can transform your physical and mental health, feels eerily well-timed ... These lessons might ease internal tensions in these stressful times but they’re really aimed at changing our daily lives when those resume in some way we’d recognize ... Breath is not a self-help book, though it will appeal to readers looking to improve themselves ... Nestor’s first-person experiences provide an intimate story, while his emphasis on hard scientific data backs up his feelings ... Nestor does an excellent job of explaining both the basics — don’t breathe through your mouth, which feels pandemic-relevant — and the more complicated aspects of breathing properly. The book is brisk and detailed, a well-written read that is always entertaining, as he melds the personal, the historical, and the scientific.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... an unlikely recipe for a good novel, much less an excellent, often moving one .... a memorable tale of Black life in America, filled with hurt and frustration but also a perpetual undercurrent of hope. Despite occasionally running on too long, introducing too many characters (with some scanning as mere caricature), and imbuing deadly situations with too many pratfalls, the heart and humanity in his writing keep the pages turning ... Every chapter, it seems, has these riffs, this beautiful but horrible poetry that reads as the anti-Whitman ... Sportcoat sometimes seems like a character out of a tall tale, less real and more a catalyst for McBride’s subplots.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... surface sparkles are secondary to the book’s far weightier currents: an exploration of race and racism and misguided perceptions of the issue, executed with wit and a sharp edge ... The plot is occasionally schematic and the second half hinges on a massive small world coincidence that feels contrived. Still, while there was perhaps a more realistic collision course for Emira, Alix, and Kelley, once you buy into the path Reid chooses, she deftly ratchets up the tension and the characters always ring true ... Whether they’re interacting with toddlers or lovers, Alix’s, Emira’s and Kelley’s behavior and dialogue always feels organic, even (or especially) when they are making the wrong choices and saying the wrong things. Reid also makes Alix and Kelley seem complex and sympathetic only to turn around and show the damage their casual white privilege can cause in ways small and large.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Times... may depress and infuriate readers, but the founder of the anti-carbon campaign group 350.org still hopes in the end to motivate them to help turn, or at least slow, the tide of climate disaster.