PositiveThe Pittsburg Post-GazetteWhether Stephen King is writing horror or fantasy, novels or short stories, one thing remains constant: expert world-building that places readers firmly in the time and place in which his works are set ... Mr. King has always excelled at sketching in the little details that bring settings to life. In his latest, Fairy Tale, the author continues to display his talent for transporting readers to places both known and unknown, creating an immersive tale with an optimistic heart ... Charlie is a charming protagonist, and his encounters with the extraordinary are brought to life by Mr. King’s ability to marry the strange with the mundane, depicted through the eyes of a teenager who is just as confounded by the strangeness of his story as the reader is ... will feel familiar to fans of the author’s Dark Tower universe: much like some of the beloved characters from that series, Charlie is a stranger in a stranger land. The first-person narration, however, makes Fairy Tale a much warmer book, as Charlie wrestles with the unbelievable while also figuring out what it means to be brave, even in the face of terror. Of course, there are some of Mr. King’s trademark touches of the macabre, and the more horrifying villains are depicted so vividly that it’s easy to forget that those same horrors aren’t his inventions at all, but rather those of the Brothers Grimm ... This isn’t to say that the novel is perfect; as ever, it could use some editing—the story doesn’t really start chugging along until about 200 pages in, which will be kryptonite to anyone who wants to get straight to the action. For anyone willing to make the journey, however, once the second act kicks in, it doesn’t slow down until the somewhat inevitable, yet heart-warming ending ... Coupled with some of the best monsters Mr. King has detailed in years and the vivid evocation of a wondrous world, it’s a pleasant way to spend some time away from a world that can often feel determined to crush even the sunniest of outlooks.
RaveThe Pittsburg Post-Gazette... a gorgeously bold work that imagines the life of the late 12th-century poet Marie de France in order to explore the power of creativity and celebrate the sensuality of love between women ... Groff crafts a portrait of a woman both ahead of and out of her time in her desire for power and respect ... does so much more than give a voice to a relatively unknown historical figure; it deftly weaves together history and fantasy to paint an incandescent portrait of not only a powerful woman but a powerful idea, one that is still controversial almost a millennium since Marie de France lived—that women can only be fully realized when they are freed from the tyranny of the male gaze.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette... draws readers in with its quick pacing and dramatic plot, while also depicting regular people coping with unforeseen tragedy. Warm, thoughtful, and optimistic, With or Without You is a perfect escape at a time when escape seems so impossible ... neatly divided into two halves, with the first half of the book taking place during the months of Stella’s coma and the second half covering some years afterward. That division works wonderfully, as Ms. Leavitt uses the relatively uneventful time while Stella is in the hospital to delve deeply into her characters, using flashbacks and inner monologues to illustrate their insecurities and hopes. This carefully-laid groundwork pays off once Stella leaves the hospital: since readers are already intimately familiar with the triangle of protagonists, the plot is allowed to gallop forward with dramatic twists and turns without detracting from the reader’s understanding of each character’s internal life ... Ms. Leavitt’s talent for recognizing the beauty in the mundane—as well as her ability to craft characters with tenderness and empathy—means that the paths Stella, Simon, and Libby take feel true to their stories, even when those paths lead to surprising places.
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette... the stories themselves are ultimately reassuring, as they all touch on the importance of finding peace with one’s self, despite the external pressures of the world. The stories still have teeth, of course—this is Stephen King we’re talking about, after all—but the feelings that linger afterward aren’t of fear, but optimism. Really, what could be more timely than that? ... While this story collection had been percolating inside of Mr. King for years prior to its release, it is striking—sometimes eerily so—how necessary these stories feel today. If It Bleeds continues the increasingly optimistic bent the author has displayed over the past decade, while still bearing those nightmarish touches at which he excels.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteThe Illness Lesson takes the theme of transformation to new heights by combining historical fact with deeply engaging character study. The result is haunting in its loveliness and empowering in its call for the liberation of women’s minds and bodies ... The Illness Lesson combines the feminine camaraderie found in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women with the simmering anger of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s proto-feminist short story \'The Yellow Wallpaper,\' and the result is both savagely acute in its portrayal of misogyny and tenderly hopeful in its trajectory. Ms. Beams writes beautifully as well as passionately, which will leave readers moved—if not a little anxious to see what such a promising author does next.
PositiveThe Pittsburg Post-GazetteUnflinching in its portrayal of the violence visited upon her protagonists, Ms. Wisel’s stories move back and forth in time to examine the difficulty of transcending one’s history, while reminding readers that the work of becoming one’s best self can only be achieved with love and support — not just from others, but from oneself ... The book is structured to be disorienting and alienating, much like the interior lives of the protagonists. The stories are snapshots of time periods in their lives, bouncing back and forth between adolescence and adulthood, and peripheral characters come and go. As a result, the book requires more effort than most literary fiction — the reader will need to piece the stories together both chronologically and narratively — but for the dedicated bibliophile, the effort is rewarded by Ms. Wisel’s preternatural understanding of the complicated nature of her heroines.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteA thought-provoking and accessible exploration of the roles social and cultural narratives play in our thinking about gender, race, history and more, the 20 essays in Whose Story Is This? collectively make the case that #MeToo and other current forms of social activism are not isolated incidents, but rather the result of slowly shifting ideas of what is, and isn’t, acceptable behavior, and the increasing willingness to give voice to those who were previously voiceless ... the onslaught of harmful narratives Ms. Solnit identifies can certainly feel overwhelming; from the prioritization of the comfort of alleged sexual abusers over justice for their victims to the demonization of ambitious women whose behaviors would be congratulated if they were men, one can feel as if the work to be done is so vast and complicated that it may not even be possible to change those narratives. The author counteracts that pessimism by reminding readers that the big societal changes we’ve seen in the past decade have been the result of years and years of smaller moments that changed the way we look at the world ... it is this gradual social change that Ms. Solnit seeks to encourage, and it gives Whose Story Is This? a sense of unabashed optimism ... it’s an incredibly necessary reminder that ultimately the story of the United States is the story of every single person in it.
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette...a horrifying yet warmly optimistic tale ... This may be one of King’s most socially conscious novels, and it is a better book for it ... The Institute...contrasts with the downbeat cynicism that peppers his earlier work. Considering the divisive and, yes, cynical world we currently inhabit, The Institute is a welcome breath of optimism.
Sarah Elaine Smith
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteGiven that the driving plot point of Marilou Is Everywhere is a teenage girl lying to a mentally ill woman about her missing daughter, it would be easy to make Cindy a villain. Yet, Ms. Smith writes with such empathy for her protagonist that Cindy becomes a much more tragic figure — a young girl desperate for love and nurturing who is so alienated from the world around her that she’s willing to become an entirely different person to escape it ... The author’s sensitivity also shines in her description of living in poverty in Western Pennsylvania ... Marilou Is Everywhere is a breathtakingly empathetic portrayal of a young woman in crisis, and an astonishingly assured debut. With lyrical precision, Ms. Smith writes Cindy with humanity and kindness, bringing her to vivid life.
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteSucceeds as a novel about a woman’s search for peace with herself but also as an imagined glimpse of a decade in the life of a movie star whose contributions to the world are still felt today ... powerfully written ... Although fictionalizing the world of an actual historical figure is a daring prospect, Ms. Benedict’s research brings the worlds of 1930s Austria and 1940s Hollywood to life — even if the detailed descriptions of the material possessions of the wealthy become long-winded at times — which allows the reader to fully engage with the world of her protagonist ... serves as a spotlight on how often women are omitted from historical records, despite the influence and innovations they may have been responsible for ... brings new life to an old story, and fans should be tantalized by the possibilities of the as-yet-unexplored heroines she may bring to life in the future.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette\"... Elevation is a kind-hearted parable about finding common ground with our neighbors, which is, honestly, a relief in a time when the relentless noise of our 24/7 news cycle hews a bit too close to horror sometimes ... Now, the bad news: Elevation, while sweet, is a mere slip of a book, both physically (at 160 pages, its word count comes in a lot lower than some of the stories in his periodic collections) and in terms of mental effort (both his and yours). It is obvious, from a pretty early point, where the book is going, and the message isn’t particularly subtle ... It’s not the first time [King\'s] written something meant to inspire, rather than terrify... but at this political moment, its earnestness is refreshing, if a bit short in length and long on price.\
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"While Ms. Solnit’s subjects certainly don’t make light reading, she avoids pessimism by pointing out bright spots in the American political landscape ... It is the author’s constant reminders of the benefits of activism and political action, however, that give her work a sense of optimism and prevents it from becoming overwhelming to readers ... Ultimately, Call Them by Their True Names is meant to appeal to those same discouraged progressives. While that laser focus could invite the criticism that Ms. Solnit is preaching to the choir, she explores that concept directly in a 2017 essay ... [The book\'s final essay is] electrifying ... [One essay\'s] call to readers — to stand up, to take action, to refuse the dual temptations of passivity and nihilism — is the most powerful idea in a book full of them.\
A. J. Finn
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThe Woman in the Window, a psychological thriller from first-time novelist A.J. Finn, is perfect for exactly that: easy to lose yourself in, quick and fun to read, even if it’s not particularly groundbreaking ... Fans of Paula Hawkins’ 2015 The Girl on the Train and its subsequent movie version will be right at home with Woman in the Window. While the genre’s prerequisite twists are different in both, a lot of the beats of the earlier book are echoed in Mr. Finn’s work here: an unreliable, alcoholic narrator; obsession with the 'happy' lives of others; skeptical police and abandonment issues ... There’s also a hefty dose of cinematic influence, and the author makes connections explicit by interspersing the book’s action with lines from movies... The world that Mr. Finn builds is rife with vividly drawn setpieces and suspicious side characters, but the self-styled noir occasionally veers from homage to satire.
Stephen King & Owen King
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...a first novel from the father-son duo of Stephen King and Owen King, the story of a world in panic quickly converges with the travails of a tiny mountain town to craft a fast-paced thriller ... Ambitious and sympathetic, Sleeping Beauties is both a love letter to women everywhere and an incisive look at what drives men to violence, neatly wrapped in enough fantasy elements to soften the more caustic edges of the commentary ... The Kings have created deeply textured women to populate their book ...book is considerate and kind toward women, but perhaps what’s needed isn’t the voices of fictional women from well-intentioned men; rather, it’s the cultural, financial, and emotional support for actual women, and the real-world action that entails.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMs. Leavitt’s novel is a far more accessible and relatable work [than The Girls], due in large part to her compassionate treatment of her characters ... the author creates such believable and tenderly rendered characters that any lack of nuance is pushed aside by the powerful journeys of these women ... Cruel Beautiful World isn’t a perfect book: a subplot involving a grief-stricken farmer exacerbates the novel’s subtlety issues, and occasionally jarring anachronisms disrupt the novel’s setting. Luckily, the story moves along at a breathless clip that tempers the intrusiveness of these issues.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteAlthough a few boogeymen may be found, the stories tend to focus on protagonists coping with trauma. This thematic focus gives the book a sense of purpose that many short story collections lack, and as a result, the stories enhance each other and elevate The Bazaar of Bad Dreams from merely good to remarkably resonant.