RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle... suspenseful ... Ng unflinchingly depicts acts of racism, family fragmentation and the violence seamed into American identity. Ng’s book is also an homage to librarians who are the vanguard of resistance to PACT ... Ng excels at narrative tension and at mustering readers’ fear and outrage. Bird emerges as an authentic boy; other characters are sketchier. The plot relies on coincidence. And on improbabilities: How did Bird’s very young parents afford a three-bedroom house in Cambridge, even in a depressed market? ... Nevertheless, All Our Missing Hearts is both a powerful reflection and grim augury. PACT evokes documented abuses of the Homeland Security Act and the Patriot Act. Ng is warning of further censorship, family separation and targeted murders. Like George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and Octavia E. Butler, Ng pays close enough attention to write tomorrow’s headlines.
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleThis ambitious debut novel by Portland, Ore., writer Juhea Kim provides a kaleidoscopic view of Korean history from 1917 to 1965 ... Kim’s exhaustive research and expansive cast represent the novel’s strengths and flaws. There are too many characters, too much historical detail and not enough attention to language and storytelling. Beasts relies on easy coincidences and informational passages. The book is marred by harlequin phrasing and a sentimental ending. Even so, it’s being released with a major media campaign. Debut writers would be better served with attentive editing and mentoring that focuses less on marketability and more on literary quality. Juhea Kim is as intelligent and intrepid as Jade, definitely a writer to watch for as she reaches her literary promise.
RaveThe Boston Globe... exquisite ... In very little space, Keegan distills the texture of village life during Ireland’s devastating 1980s recession. While the novella is a sharp critique of Catholic institutions, it’s also a bold examination of Christian charity ... Keegan’s precisely considered details about character, setting, memory, and dramatic moment create a story you will want to read again and again. Her deceptively simple language is pitch-perfect ... Keegan’s music is well suited to this season in a world where too often self-interest overshadows compassion.
PositiveThe Women\'s Review of Books[Ozeki] turns the abstract into the dramatic, vividly chronicling the misadventures and mutual devotion of Annabelle and her son Benny. This, Ozeki’s fifth book, is a wild ride with a diverse supporting cast ... Clearly the novelist had fun inventing so many fantastical episodes with quirky characters, but the novel would benefit from Tidy Magic’s advice or from an editor skilled in de-cluttering. There’s a difference between a successful philosophical novelist like Iris Murdoch and a writer whose goal wavers from dharma to self-help to wacky entertainment ... Despite its bagginess, Ozeki’s project reveals a wondrous imagination and profound compassion. Through the great vastness of this novel, she celebrates the interconnectedness of humans and ferrets and pottery shards and rubber ducks and protective crows.
PositiveThe Houston ChronicleGroff’s curious narrative style, relying on summary over scene and indirect dialogue over conversation, may deter some readers, while others may imagine the rhythm of an Angevin raconteur. She nimbly navigates the bilingual, cross-cultural Plantagenet reign when English kings ruled over half of France as well as England ... While historical novels do take liberties with recorded events, Matrix creates an entire life for the illusive poet. Does the abiding enigma of the real Marie encumber or enhance the novel? Probably both.
MixedThe Women\'s Review of BooksLawhon has a knack for excavating compelling characters from history ... Lawhon’s talent for geographical detail shines ... Lawhon has created an energetic, suspenseful tale, vividly conveying the grunge in Nancy’s life as well as the luxury, the hardship as well as the privilege. Unfortunately, the writing is uneven and rushed, marred by anachronisms, clichés, convoluted transitions, and unconvincing details ... she was too busy to finish the research? Code Name Hélène, entertaining as it is, leaves readers hungry for more depth, rigor, and grace.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneEvanescent and bloody, obsessive and meditative, historical and futuristic, dystopian and romantic: Steven Millhauser\'s brilliant work thrives in the fecund, mucky cracks of human contradictions ... The 16 stories here revise traditional tales, entwine shadows of individual terror and community panic, and dazzle with nimble allegory ... Millhauser\'s characters seek improvement, order and happiness, usually finding or making trouble in the process ... Millhauser plays fluidly across genre — gothic, horror, hyperrealism, fables — and evokes not only his acknowledged influences, Nabokov and Mann, but also Poe, Calvino, Borges and Millet. In these stories he savors the perverse, morbid and dark.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleAnne Tyler...is still adopting guileless, melancholy characters and setting them on quixotic courses ... closely observed depictions of people and place are the rewards of a Tyler novel ... But Clock Dance isn’t all charming eccentricity. Tyler’s characters live in real time, challenged by absent parents and troublesome kids. They face racism, misogyny, random violence. They suffer myriad forms of loneliness and develop compassion for themselves and others ... Tensions hover. Who shot Denise? Why? When can she manage on her own? ... Loyal Peter waits impatiently in their comfortable, quiet home with her beloved saguaro cactus. Ticktock. How can a person decide?
MixedThe Boston GlobeIn the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner’s first book, is an autobiographical novel about Raami, a 7-year-old with polio, torn from her extended royal family in the mid-1970s during the Khmer Rouge regime ... The impetus for Ratner’s book is her own visceral memory of the terrifying passage from cosseted youth to homeless, crippled adolescent on the verge of death ... Like other novels relying too particularly on remembered experience, In the Shadow of the Banyan, veers into sentimentality and didacticism. This isn’t a fully imagined narrative so much as a (justifiable) indictment of the Khmer Rouge and an (understandable) hagiography of Ratner’s own father ...this story could have been told more powerfully with a more dexterous approach to content and style.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe Red Garden is a fantastical history of Blackwell, Mass., from 1750 to the present, replete with intermarried families, melancholic bears and altruistic mermaids ...presents fables in dated, chronological order, beginning with William Brady's catastrophic expedition to the Berkshire frontier... Narrative intimacy and authority are apparent in Hoffman's aphoristic sentences ... Although her characterization is stronger on archetype than on human idiosyncrasy and some plots are contrived, Hoffman's spirit of place shines ... Hoffman exhibits her usual curiosity about and sympathy with outcasts.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"In the 10 conversational sections, we learn far more about Faye through inference than through dramatic action or confessional revelation. The tone is an intriguing blend of intimate and remote; we discover Faye through the ways she listens and interprets … Is Faye wearing magnifying glasses? Her meticulous depictions shift from the exquisite to the grotesque, and she excels at the latter … She presents herself as an objective observer, yet from her preoccupation with human frailties, we sense haunting if nebulous fears. Her days morph from ennui to melancholy. She tells her ‘neighbor,’ ‘I had come to believe more and more in the virtues of passivity, and of living a life as unmarked by self-will as possible. … I had decided to want nothing at all.’\
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle[Freed's] dramatic scenes of stalking, adultery, murder and reincarnation make The Last Laugh a superb option for a comic thriller movie ... Freed nimbly dramatizes the strengths and flaws of the women as they discover freedom from work and family ... Sometimes the exuberant burlesque is hard to follow because the women command a complicated retinue of minor characters. Freed wisely opens the novel with descriptions of the 19 'Dramatis Personae,' a list to which this reader frequently returned. Clearly, Freed had a blast zipping through the adventures of these spirited, droll women. She excels at their frank, snappy repartee. And she surprises readers to the end, with an epilogue launching the four friends on new escapades in their 70s.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeGoodman’s skill at portraying the roller-coaster of youthful romanticism, lust, boredom, and paralyzing insecurity is matched by her nimble evocation of place in both Massachusetts and Arkadia ... Goodman’s mastery of the technological creation and emotional experience of these virtual spheres is impressive. The Arkadian scenes are both captivating and chilling. However, the black hat/white hat dichotomy is a little strained ... Although The Chalk Artist ends in a warm house, fragrant with gingerbread and echoing with friendly conversation, the seductive journey through Arkadia has taught everyone that nothing is forever.
RaveThe Boston Globe\"Like any successful novel of ideas, Autumn doesn’t end; it reverberates in one’s bones, recalling Eugenio Montale’s argument in The Second Life of Art, that the power of a book, painting, dance, or any art form is not a culminating catharsis but a recurring echo. Thus Smith’s autumnal leaves cling to trees as the questions and quandaries linger ... Autumn shimmers with wit, melancholy, grief, joy, wisdom, small acts of love and, always, wonder at the seasons.\
MixedThe San Francisco Chronicle...a disarming feminist picaresque ... Rooney’s versatility and ambition (poetry, memoir, scholarship as well as fiction) rival those of her indefatigable subject. While the novel is strong in concept, it disappoints in language and character depth ... Compared with the nuanced elders in recent novels by Cathleen Shine, They May Not Mean To, But They Do and Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night, Lillian emerges as a feisty caricature. Then again, a work of light fiction may be the perfect testament to a career of light verse.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleAnam deftly explores historical complexities while vividly dramatizing Zubaida’s struggles to discover lasting love, meaningful work and her true parentage ... Anam’s novel is a seductive, lively end to the trilogy. It is also wordy at times — more than 100 pages longer than each of the previous books — perhaps because Anam is naturally most captivated by the concerns of her own generation.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeAn effective retelling, while nodding to the original text, stands on its own as a story in the way Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince responds to Hamlet and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World plays with The Tempest. Tyler succeeds in creating a world we believe in as Kate struggles with work, relaxes in her garden, and endures her eccentric insensitive father and bratty sister.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe novel’s evocative language and robust pacing turn this improbable story into a fascinating rumination on identity, friendship and love ... Amend has a strong sense of setting. She vividly evokes Duluth’s bleakness, Chicago’s sparkling bustle, rural Nebraska’s quietude and San Francisco’s sophistication. Most enticing of all is the otherworldliness of the Galapagos. Each character is drawn with nuance and Franny is eminently appealing — smart, witty, modest, inventive, brave and lonely ... What about those two years? Amend’s narrative disappoints here. Surely the account of the best years of their daring, self-sufficient life in such an exotic location deserves more than eight pages. Perhaps the best part of the book is Amend’s convincing portrait of an unconventional, affectionate, adventurous marriage.