RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe two stories contained within the World War II spy thriller The Torqued Man, by Peter Mann, fit together like the teeth of a zipper, one atop the other, until the whole thing is satisfyingly pulled into place ... They tell a story that feels at times like a John Le Carré thriller and at other times like Josh Bazell’s darkly comic novel, Beat the Reaper ... To give perspective and mystery to the already enjoyable plot of The Torqued Man, author Mann alternates his McCool chapters with the more academic writing of de Groot. This is a drier telling of events and one that carries with it a certain self-awareness, as if each moment must be analyzed and catalogued to later make sense of what one has witnessed. And though at times this feels like a derailment of the inherent dangers of Nazi Germany, de Groot’s narration often — and especially as the novel nears its ending – paints him as the book’s more human and relatable character ... But the true strength of The Torqued Man isn’t found in one story or the other, but in how the two stories skillfully come together as one ... engaging and entertaining
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleMoon Witch, Spider King is one part violent coming-of-age novel and another part brutalist revenge novel. The world created in these pages is wonderful, well-imagined and in some ways very close to reality ... This is a beautiful novel with well-developed characters enmeshed in a very real and terrifying fight, not only for their lives but also against a cycle of life that repeats from generation to generation ... It also feels like a novel that is two novels. The first, the violent coming-of-age portion ... It’s impressive how much world-building and character development James manages in these pages ... The second half of the novel — the brutalist revenge portion — feels a little like James is working toward the events of Black Panther, Red Wolf. The quick dialogue of the first half begins to sputter a bit as the mission takes shape. And though there is a goal to be achieved, much of the urgency often feels sapped by overlong discussions between the characters. In essence, the second half of Moon Witch, Spider King reads a lot like a prequel to “Black Panther, Red Wolf.” But like any good prequel, it can be read on its own.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleIn the language and detailed cataloging of the day, there is something of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News about Mohamed’s latest novel. The writing carries a depth of humanity that puts the reader right in the shoes of the characters — the clothes they wear, the streets they walk, the emotions they feel ... The Fortune Men is both complicated and uncomplicated in this way. It is filled with the hope of how things should be and the truth of how things are. All of it, the life of Mahmood Mattan, the system convicting him of this murder, and the community that allows it, all brought painfully into focus with Mohamed’s unflinching and gifted prose.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... intricate and beautifully written ... though the seed of this novel — Odd’s trial against the elements in 1897 — is engaging and memorable, it is not what makes the core of the story. Those events, both in Odd’s life and in Greta’s life, come later. They are, as the journalist’s words imply, only something that can be seen after the fact when the cold is gone and a moment’s respite offers a chance at self-reflection ... isn’t simply a story about surviving nature. There are polar bears, deadly crevasses and blinding whiteouts aplenty, but it’s rather a story about the events that come when one emerges from the storm. For Odd and for Greta, more than a hundred years later, it’s the story of love, marriage and, in the broader sense, life. Geye is at his best when describing Odd’s predicaments throughout. The language is lyrical and often poetic, almost sounding as if Mary Shelley herself had come back to describe the frozen north ... While Greta’s chapters seem decidedly more straightforward in their layout and descriptions, Geye’s wonderful gift for words is evident throughout, not only describing Greta but also her family lineage.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... reflective, and it dances and trails out bits of dialogue and character development that drift through the air like music, only to be picked up a hundred pages on like the chorus of a song ... Mitchell writes like he’s lived it — as if he’s sat in with the band from its first show to its last. As a writer, rather than a musician, I envy him in this journey. Each chapter is named for a song, and each song is like a diary entry in the lives of these characters ... moves effortlessly back and forth through time and space, creating a conversation all its own, a style that is distinctive to Mitchell ... It is a wonder Mitchell keeps it all together, and though the bandmates certainly struggle with a multitude of tragedies, hiccups and bumps along the way, they each find their own success.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... a powerful opening to an equally powerful story. And there is a lot to compliment — from Young’s descriptions of a high desert town outside Reno to the parallels Young creates between characters ... Young’s ability to create connections between these characters is the real marvel of this work. They are each distinct from the other, but in so many ways they are the same, and the humanity Young creates in each is a direct product of this understanding ... a breathtaking read, with flawed and authentic characters who hit so close to home that at times it is impossible not to root for them, just as we might for those closest to us.
RaveSan Francisco ChronicleI’ll say it — this book broke me ... The Prettiest Star outdoes what has already been a stellar literary career ... one of the most heart-wrenching novels I’ve read in a long time ... There’s something for everyone in this novel ... Sickels weaves a rewarding but complicated web ... The choices each character makes are rendered not just through Sickels’ gifted prose, but also in the often telling, time-stamped sections Brian records in his childhood room ... The stream-of-consciousness style lends itself to the feel of the novel — the unpredictability Brian is facing, not from the virus, but from the community where he has chosen to live his last days ... Brian was real to me. He still is.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... pure entertainment ... As characters go, Parisman is as no-nonsense as Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, but unlike those classic detectives, there’s a bit more heart and nuance to our central character. Somewhere in his late 60s, Parisman is well-drawn, with many supporting characters feeling just as real as he does ... The plot draws the reader along at a fast clip, moving from one clue to the next. As each new bit of information leads on, Weinberger is also playing a little sleight-of-hand with the reader ... It’s not unlike many other P.I. novels. But the way Weinberger manages it, doling out clues here and there, showing one thing, only to take it back later, is mesmerizing and also frustrating in the same way a puzzle might be until it’s finished and you can see the whole, beautiful thing for what it is.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... not a novel to shy away from dark places or dark subject matter. Rather, it runs toward both ... It is clear from the opening that Denfeld has some expertise with the subject of homeless children, pointing out the difficulties and legalities of sheltering minors ... But for all Celia’s parallels to Naomi’s sister, Celia is her own being with her own troubles. She is captivating in both her world-weary view of life and her innocence in a harsh landscape ... Denfeld is a talented writer, and The Butterfly Girl is certainly a work of compassion. In a lesser writer’s hands it might not ring as true, but Denfeld guides the reader through dangerous streets, beneath piss-stained overpasses and then back out into a world there seems to be little respite from. It is marvelously done, and Denfeld’s characters are all the better for it. They are human in the best sense of the word — humorous, loving, scared and easily rooted for.