PositiveWashington PostThe grief essay is, or perhaps ought to be, a genre unto itself. Getting it right appears to involve an alchemy that braids personal loss with metaphorical — and often quotidian — parallels, all in gorgeous prose. Bonus points for leavening the pain with a bit humor. Hauser’s story of calling off her marriage to her cheating, gaslighting fiance, then finding grace while studying the whooping crane off the Gulf Coast of Texas, hit all of these notes ... Hauser is a playful, energetic and always likable writer, and to ask whether the rest of the collection rises to the level of the title essay is possibly the wrong question ... While the cumulative effect of reading these essays in succession is ultimately affecting, along the way it sometimes feels disjointed ... This is less a criticism than an existential question about the nature of essay collections: Are they meant to be read sequentially, or are they more like a restaurant menu ... Hauser...sets her own rules, both in the personal and narrative sense ... With its frank explorations of sexuality, grief and other intimate subjects, this book might not be for everyone. (It includes a detailed trigger warning.) Yet I kept thinking about all of the people in my life into whose hands I can’t wait to put The Crane Wife.
RaveThe Washington Post... a political comedy of manners that reads like the love child of Page Six and a long episode of Veep. I mean this in the best possible way. If you like your humor dark and take guilty pleasure in imagining the messy lives of others, you will enjoy Grant Ginder’s fifth novel ... That the storyline is familiar, and the characters straight out of central casting, does not detract from the novel’s appeal. Note to creative writing students everywhere, particularly the ones shooting for the stylistic moon: What Ginder does so effectively is take a familiar template and claim it as his own ... Ginder is a sharp writer, and even his workaday observations turn up countless small gems ... The resolution of the novel is hilariously implausible, but second-guessing authorial choices is what we do in book groups, and it’s part of the fun. Ginder might have ended by sending all of his characters into outer space, and I’d still be recommending this novel.
PositiveThe Washington Post... absorbing ... At times, this closely observed family saga reads like comfort food, peppered with nostalgic references to products including Lawson’s French onion dip and Toni home perms, as well as occasional feel-good homilies, such as \'you should always be able to feel proud of the girl you see in that mirror.\' But this quiet, Anne Tyler-esque novel is also a reminder that gentler times were not always gentle, that life is filled with hardship even without existential threats.
Madeleine St John
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...a deceptively smart comic gem that tracks four women through the pandemonium of one holiday season in 1950s Sydney. St. John, who died in 2006, was the first Australian woman to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize...and though the plotlines here are somewhat reductive — marriage, dating and dresses are the characters’ central preoccupations — the book is laced with a fierce intelligence that captures the limited options for women and postwar xenophobic views ... Let’s raise a glass to the hope that such retro views have changed — and also to this heroic comic novel that’s not only still alive but getting a second wind.
MixedMomentLive a Little... is ostensibly a love story about these two nonagenarians, who live across from one another on North London’s Finchley Road. But its themes have less to do with romance than with humiliation and regret, privilege and bad parenting, a temperamental prostate and, above all, words ... This new book is classic Jacobson: smart and quippy, full of literary allusions and mined with barbs ... Even if the Beryl-meets-Shimi romance is unconvincing, this novel is worth reading—for the words.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewNina Stibbe’s Reasons to Be Cheerful is so dense with amusing detail that I thought about holding the book upside down to see if any extra funny bits might spill from the creases between the page ... Events turn a shade darker in the second part, and the momentum flags a bit when the focus shifts from dentistry to driving lessons. But it hardly matters; the pleasure of this novel is in the quirky characters, the effervescent writing and the comedy in just about every line.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...[a] maelstrom of twisty plot points, complicated entanglements, pregnancies of ambiguous etiology and colorful if sometimes stock characters. Historical details, which abound, are often fascinating. (Who knew that beards interfere with gas masks?) And Weldon’s descriptions can beguile ... At times, Before the War can offer wry social satire, but with its many quirks and repetitions it sometimes reads like breezy 'notes to self' ... Vivien, potentially the novel’s most intelligent and intriguing character, is rendered two-dimensional, reduced to a barrage of adjectives about size.
PositiveThe Washington PostSet in the 1980s in the pre-Internet days of the emergence of artificial intelligence, this is a novel that artfully straddles genres. It is a rich and convincing period piece ... But The Unseen World is also a cerebral, page-turning thriller, a novel about code that is itself written in a kind of code ... There is, however, sometimes an overabundance of detail that threatens the otherwise sharp narrative...But these are minor complaints in what is otherwise an elegant and ethereal novel.