PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette...a sobering, yet almost joyful story of how totalitarianism propagates itself—and how it may be ended ... Knowing that Gilead eventually falls means there are no real surprises in The Testaments, but surprise isn’t really Ms. Atwood’s aim; rather, her narrators represent the paths that may be taken in efforts to dismantle regressive regimes ... the biggest surprise of The Testaments is not part of the narrative at all; it is Ms. Atwood’s dogged optimism, which permeates the book. Whereas The Handmaid’s Tale lingered on the allure of power for those living under oppression, this new work instead gives context to that dynamic and reveals that for some, undermining in the guise of cooperation is a method of resistance ... a reminder that even in the most hopeless of times, there will be those that fight, both from without and within; the important part, always, is to continue to resist.
RavePIttsburgh Post-GazettePowerful and surreal, Russell’s works compassionately illustrate the ambiguity inherent in every relationship while realistically portraying the way that same ambiguity complicates everything it touches, often casting a dark cloud over its participants ... What prevents the stories from becoming heavy handed in their thematic connection, however, is Russell’s use of the surreal and fantastic to craft stories that are wholly separate from one another, requiring readers to learn each individual tale’s use of magical realism ... these impossible settings elevate the relative mundanity of difficult relationships and turn them into something breathtaking and unforgettable.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette... a thoroughly modern tale of the search for adulthood ... Confident and insightful, Somers’ book is, in short, an admonition to be careful what you wish for ... Somers has written her protagonist with a sharp eye for the type of ennui endemic to a swath of the millennial generation ... looks at dissatisfaction and loneliness, and how money and fame do not necessarily stave off those uncomfortable feelings. It’s also a cynically funny look at the lies people tell to themselves or each other, whether it’s to further one’s career, seduce someone, or even just get out of bed on gray mornings. Somers’ deft handling of the juxtaposition between self-defeating pessimism and the heartfelt need for human connection would be impressive for any established author; for a debut, it’s a tantalizing promise of incisive works to come.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...an intensely satisfying debut from an author who shows a profound understanding of the uncertainties of life and how difficult it can be to voice them. Mr. Kalfa?’s use of the political history of the Czech Republic gives an added dimension to his protagonist that informs his reactions to the world; Jakub is brought to life so thoroughly that the full-circle nature of his narrative feels both surprising, yet inevitable to readers paying attention. This novel—a thoughtful blend of Philip K. Dick, the book/?movie The Martian, and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis — is a gratifying introduction to an author who, one can hope, is just beginning.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteA remarkable thing about Ms. Levy’s work is how she looks back at her actions with unflinching honesty about her regrets; her memories are forever clouded with her knowledge of the painfully random nature of life, and she never wastes an opportunity to chastise herself ... Still, her need to explain the mistakes she feels she has made — her affair with an ex-lover, in particular, is subjected to a lot of what can be boiled down to 'what was I thinking?' — stands in contrast to the overall thesis: 'Everybody doesn’t get everything: as natural and unavoidable as mortality.' Whether this conflict is intentional is unclear ... The Rules Do Not Apply is not an easy read, and for people who are perhaps still laboring under the illusion that they have control over their lives, its downbeat tone might be a bit much to bear. For anyone who has ever grieved, though, not only does the book serve as a testament to the obliterating nature of loss, but it also offers hope.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteSet in the painful and exhilarating transition to adulthood, The Idiot is an epic exploration of language, love and culture. Written with humor, intelligence and a generous sense of empathy, Ms. Batuman creates a world that is readily identifiable to anyone who remembers what it’s like to be a teenager on the cusp of the adult world ... The Idiot takes the familiar tale of a lovesick teenager and elevates it with the author’s gift for examining how language both unites — Ivan and Selin spend half of the novel talking only through email — and separates, since their inability to understand each other means neither truly understand what the other is feeling ... Ms. Batuman ambitiously creates a world for Selin that is only possible with the internet — yet, one that is timelessly applicable to anyone who has ever struggled to invent themselves in adulthood.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteFull of despair and deception, yet sprinkled with hope and strength, the author has created stories that, while not light-hearted, ultimately affirm to readers that whatever their personal experiences, they are not alone ... Ms. Gay’s prose is undeniably sharp and to the point. No words are wasted, and every story is nimbly brought to life with deft observations and a willingness to speak the truth about the pain and happiness that women experience. The bleak nature of many of the stories can become overwhelming; it is emotionally exhausting to be subjected to the various types of trauma that the heroines of Difficult Women face, so it may behoove the reader to take the stories a few at a time. Yet, even with the melancholy bent of this collection, Ms. Gay has crafted unforgettable characters and stories that make the journey worthwhile.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteImaginative, unsettling and relentlessly sharp, the nine stories of the book are full of immersive detail and fully realized narrators that give believability to the fantastic ... Taken individually, each story in We Show What We Have Learned” tends to be an uncomfortably close look at the interior lives of people struggling to make sense of themselves and those around them. Ms. Beams’ style favors ambiguous endings, which may frustrate some readers who would prefer clearer resolutions. The author’s embrace of uncertainty and the otherworldly, however, makes this collection a devastating illustration of the trajectories our lives can take, for better or worse, and the relative powerlessness an individual has to alter those trajectories.
PanThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteWhat sounds worse than a knock-off Jason Bourne novel with all the excitement and unpredictability removed? If you guessed 'a boring knock-off Jason Bourne novel that is actually an awkward and unbelievable romance,' then you’ve probably already read The Chemist ... Erroneously described on the book jacket as 'a gripping page-turner,' The Chemist takes all of the familiar spy thriller tropes — a government agent-turned-fugitive, an ill-advised romance, double-crosses, corruption that goes all the way to the top (does it ever just go to the middle?) — and combines them into a tasteless mélange that is both difficult to care about and easy to forget.
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette[Semple] has crafted another fast-paced story full of twists and turns that double down on 'mean is funny.' The result is a biting satire of well-off white liberal life that skewers everything in its path while maintaining a level of affection for its characters that balances out its acerbic sensibility ... one of Ms. Semple’s gifts as a writer is to treat everything with the same scathing eye ... Ms. Semple has done something intriguing with her book: She has plucked out pieces of her previous work and assembled them into something darker, funnier and more meaningful, making Today Will Be Different a much more heartfelt effort.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteWritten with insight and warmth, The Inseparables examines the inextricable link between mothers and daughters, while also exploring the conflict between female sexuality in one’s private and public lives ... The novel’s main drawback is that for as fleshed-out and thoughtfully written as Mr. Nadler’s protagonists are, the men of his novel are decidedly less so ... Despite the men of The Inseparables providing a shaky narrative basis for the saga of the Olyphant women, Mr. Nadler’s emotionally rich and sharply observed portrayal of three women and their journeys toward emotional and sexual self-actualization is compassionate and compelling.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...an entertaining thriller that combines the villain of Mr. Mercedes with the supernatural elements hinted at in 2015’s Finders Keepers to create a suspenseful yarn spun with Mr. King’s renowned flair for the otherworldly ... What makes End of Watch compelling in comparison to the triology’s first two books is the supernatural bent Mr. King introduces to the story. While the previous books are perfectly serviceable mysteries, End of Watch is a marked improvement ... For some readers, particularly those who are fans of Mr. King, the lightning-fast nature of the plot and its more uncanny elements will fit together perfectly. However, readers looking for more grounded suspense in the Patricia Cornwell/Jeffrey Deaver vein may find themselves frustrated with the unexpected turns the author makes in explaining the killer’s actions.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteAt times, The City of Mirrors can be somewhat heavy-handed; parallels between the mythical nature of the story and the similarities it shares with existing religions feel slightly self-important. The ending, in particular, seems almost unnecessary since it mainly serves as a confirmation of the author’s themes, which run through the book. Despite these criticisms, Justin Cronin has pulled off a remarkable feat with the final chapter of his trilogy. Readers are drawn in with The Passage and its more familiar horror tropes. Yet while other books in the horror genre tend to revel in gore and scares, Mr. Cronin resists this path. Although parts of this book are deeply horrifying, the author’s emphasis on a sense of hope, and a sense of history, is refreshing for both horror fans and readers drawn to literary fiction.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMs. Schiff’s stories are so sharp and concise—the shortest comes in at less than a page—that at times they hew closer to poetry than fiction ... While this approach lends the collection a strong sense of cohesion, it also makes it feel as though The Bed Moved is composed of personal essays reworked into pieces thinly disguised as fiction ... Ms. Schiff’s insistence on exploring a relatively small subset of issues is both the strength and the weakness.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteCharacters exist to flesh out the competing interests of those involved in the violence, so that the attempt to make conflicting points of view easy to understand results in a lack of emotional engagement with these characters because they are clearly just stand-ins for a particular ideology.