RaveThe Christian Science MonitorEileen is a triumph – a vibrant romantic lead rather than a dotty knitter played for laughs ... O’Leary excels at good-hearted wit ... If you’ve been having a rough time concentrating enough to read a novel and just need something with a thoroughly good heart to hold onto, The Switch offers both stalwart Eileens and enough happy endings to populate an Andrew Lang fairy book.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... a sense of community...in spades ... [an] irrespressible protagonist ... a balm, offering an expansive sense of love and possibility at a time when the main characters feel like those chances are gone.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorAboulela, who’s been nominated three times for the Orange Prize, excels at writing the interior lives of women and exploring their Muslim faith, and she brings those qualities to bear here. Unfortunately, she introduces a thread of magic realism that winds up snarling the plot ... Bird Summons offers plenty of Aboulela’s lyrical writing and empathy ... it’s impossible not to root for her trio, or for a novel that comes with realizations like this: \'Perhaps that’s what counted at the end, the actions one considered small and casual, not the big ones carried on the peg of self-righteousness.\'
N. K. Jemisin
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...stunning ... Jemisin is doing something entirely original here ... Jemisin doesn’t waste time on explanations or pleasantries. Her story is an unapologetically ferocious parable of modern race relations. She expects readers to keep up. If you know that H.P. Lovecraft, a Hitler supporter, had some very ugly ideas about race, those wriggling tendrils take on an added creepiness. She also expects you to know that when white people call the cops on people of color trying to enjoy a park in real life, they don’t have the excuse of an alien intelligence having taken over their mind.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorAt her normal plotting speed, Collins operates well over the speed limit, and she’s using rocket fuel for most of Mockingjay ... Mockingjay is without question the most brutal of the trilogy. Nobody emerges unscathed – very bad things happen to everyone from fan favorites down to characters so minor a reader has to pause and think, \'Now, who was that again?\' before recoiling in horror at their fate. Collins doesn’t take war lightly – her characters debate the morality involved in tactics used to try to overthrow the rotting, immoral government, and they pay a high cost for those tactics ... It is also an entirely gripping read. In Katniss, Collins has crafted a heroine so fierce and tenacious that this reader will follow her anywhere.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorDespite her almost-psychic abilities of deduction, hard-drinking Claire is a spiritual heir of Philip Marlowe and other loners solving cold-hearted crimes in warm climates ... Sara Gran (Dope) wrote urban noir before turning to mystery, and her descriptions of dead-eyed teen drug dealers in matching white tanks and baggy jeans have the precision of HBO\'s The Wire.
C. E. Morgan
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorAll the Living isn’t a feminist fable wrapped in a Gothic romance; it’s a morality play, slow-moving and considered ... With its Appalachian setting and atmosphere of quiet, All the Living puts one in mind of the novels of Tony Earley ... Morgan does love a lyrical description, as when Aloma walks into the neglected farmhouse for the first time. \'Over her head a porch fan hung spinless, trailing its cobwebs like old hair, its spiders gone\' ... And sometimes she goes overboard with the pretty phrases ... But Morgan hits more than she misses, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with swinging for the linguistic fences.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorFor those willing to experiment a little, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake doesn’t tread even remotely on the same emotional territory as Like Water For Chocolate (another book that combined food, magic, and a really unhappy cook) ... Bender doesn’t go in for florid flourishes or passionate writing; her territory is the unspoken unhappiness of a 20th-century, middle-class family ... Her 1980s California world is a very recognizable one of suburbs, buses, and overworked school nurses. If anything, Bender does less with food than one would expect of a novel whose main character’s emotional world is bound up in the sense of taste ... There’s an evocative power in Bender’s work that lingers with a reader.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...[an] outstanding new mystery ... Three Pines is (if you ignore the murder rate and annual snowfall) a cozy place to live, but Penny’s books can’t be dismissed as cozies, not with their philosophical bent and clear-eyed gaze at what happens when the human heart curdles ... A Better Man is another insightful examination of her motto: \'Goodness exists.\'
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... a wistful look at two idealists and the world they should have inherited. Reading it this summer is an experience filled with echoes, as tensions between her characters’ homeland and their adopted country ratchet ever higher ... Kamali offers a paean not just to lost love, but to the poetry, food, and culture that fed their memories for 60 years.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe Parisian...is not a page-turner. That’s not an insult. If there’s a slow food movement, perhaps there should be a slow read movement: books meant to savor, not gulp. With historical sweep and sentences of startling beauty, Hammad has written the story of a displaced dreamer ... Through dint of her own substitutions, Hammad has created in The Parisian a contemplative book of great beauty.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe Music Shop is just as run down and full of eclectic lonely souls as any fan of High Fidelity or The Commitments could wish. It’s 1988, and business is slower than usual for the shabby shops of Unity Street. A development company is offering a buyout, but Frank smells a rat and urges the community to hold on to their quirky, neighborly way of life ... The Music Shop is less melancholy, but still tends to a minor key. Like that novel, it revels in resilience of ordinary people, and empathy and loyalty are prized above more material considerations ... The story is unabashedly heartwarming, and Joyce is skilled enough to avoid is false notes ...is one sentimental journey that will set a reader’s heart at ease.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorNot since Sheridan Whiteside inflicted himself on the Stanleys in The Man Who Came to Dinner has a houseguest caused such upheaval in a staid middle-class family … The Accidental has some marvelous characterizations — Astrid is the book's crowning glory — and the writing brims with wit, humor, and energy. Smith gives each character their own style … Amber is first shown as a bright blur in Astrid's video camera, and the question of what she is (ghost? fate? the collective unconscious of the Smarts?) and why she picked the Smarts is never answered. If you're a mystery fan, like me, this is more than a smidge frustrating.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorSet at a Chicago ad agency at the turn of the century, Ferris's novel is for anyone who chuckles over Dilbert, can recite lines from Office Space, or has an appointment on Thursday nights with The Office. Then We Came to the End is a vicious sendup of cubicle culture that somehow manages not to lose sight of its characters' humanity … If Ferris were just being clever and snarky, Then We Came to the End would buckle in on itself long before the warm-hearted epilogue. But even his most gonzo creation is given a sympathetic aspect that saves him from caricature.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWhile it's the title of the collection, ‘Twilight of the Superheroes’ isn't actually the best story in Eisenberg's new collection. That distinction goes to ‘Some Other, Better Otto,’ in which a 60-something lawyer contemplates his complicated family relations and worries about his mentally unstable sister and the nature of the self … In just a handful of tales Eisenberg offers enough insight and intelligent observation to amply justify her reputation as the American Alice Munro.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorThe faint of heart might as well put the novel down right now and go switch on the soothing tones of Alex Trebek, because they won't be able to handle Ram's version of Jeopardy … What mars Q & A can best be described as a tonal problem. While this reader appreciated Ram's unwillingness to wallow in despair, many of the events he describes are so harrowing that the novel's brisk, even breezy, pace can seem disconcerting … But there's no denying the novel's clever conceit, or that Swarup has created a hero readers will happily cheer for.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorAs is often the case with Erdrich's writings, comic and tragic get tangled together. One of the funniest scenes is a funeral. But underlying it all is a deep sadness … Figuring out how each segment fits into the underlying puzzle is just one of the novel's pleasures. Many lives in Pluto are shaped by the dark incidents of the past, but it's most confusing for those like Evelina, who are descended from both the killers and the victims.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe author of A Gesture Life and Aloft has already proven himself a literary force to be reckoned with, but he’s ratcheted things up a notch with his epic of grief and survival, The Surrendered ... All three main characters are shaped by unendurable losses, although they all endure ... The cumulative weight of tragedies is enough to make it seem as if the characters in King Lear were merely having an off week ... Lee delineates, in thoughtful detail, the emotional toll survival has on his characters ... In addition to Homer, Lee weaves in references to the battle of Solferino in Italy, quoting extensively from an account by an eyewitness to that tragedy.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorIt's not that On Chesil Beach isn't elegantly and precisely rendered; it's just that the purposely hermetic approach isn't quite as exciting or, frankly, fun to read as more sweeping novels such as Atonement … It's 1962 – just a few years away from the sexual liberation movement – and Florence and Edward, a violinist and a history graduate, are enduring one of the most squirm-inducing honeymoons in the literary canon. Even the food is bad: an overcooked roast beef dinner with a slice of melon with a maraschino cherry on top to provide a hint of elegance … McEwan details their night in intentionally painful detail, but he isn't playing his hapless lovers for comedy. He regards them compassionately and successfully makes the case that what happens to the idealistic couple is both inevitable and qualifies as a tragedy.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorSome novels will break your heart from the very first sentence. Sing, Unburied, Sing is one of those ... Ward writes with the economy of a poet. Rather than a muse, she seems to have channeled the spirit of one of the Kindly Ones, the Erinyes of Greek mythology ... It’s easy to see why Ward’s new novel has been called a Beloved for the incarcerated generation, but there are also echoes of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. Readers of the memoir Men We Reaped, Ward’s chronicle about the five young men she lost – including her brother – will also hear grace notes from that wrenching work. At just 304 pages long, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a road novel, a ghost story, a family epic, and damning testimony bearing witness to terrible crimes. It is also unforgettable.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorCanada is about the aftermath of a moment of violence on a normal life, told by a man 50 years distant from the events that upended his existence. It’s a deliberately paced novel that takes its time getting where it’s going, but the author is very sure of his destination … Ford takes a low-key approach to even the most violent episodes, and his writing in Canada is matter-of-fact in its exactness. He writes the way one of his characters paints, to the befuddlement of the teenage Dell … It stands as one of the most memorably heartbreaking novels of the year.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorCall it Parrot and Olivier’s Refined Journey. Except that Parrot isn’t really all that refined, as Olivier points out numerous times. Parrot, for his part, calls his employer ‘Lord Migraine.’ Needless to say, hijinks will ensue and these two crazy kids will end up the best of friends … John ‘Parrot’ Larrit is one of the book’s chief pleasures. The novel rouses from the aristocratic ennui of its first chapter as soon as Parrot begins recalling his childhood … The novel is crammed so full, it bristles like a hedgehog with all of Carey’s spiky ideas. Not all are carried to completion (the marquis’s motivations remain opaque, for example), but there’s enough to snag your imagination on, and to spare.
Karen Joy Fowler
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIn a novel that blends fiction and science, Fowler takes on what it means to be a family, the nature of memory and grief, and where the dividing line between the human and humanity lies … While Rosemary has been afraid to let herself long for – or even think about – her siblings for years, she's been shaped by her relationship to them, nonetheless. And when she does break her long silence about what happened to Fern, the events are devastating enough to remake the life of every member of her family.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorMaddAdam, the bulk of which occurs over a period of weeks, offers layers upon layers of storytelling as the new society takes shape. Toby ends up serving as a cultural liaison with the innocent Crakers, telling them a story every night about the past … Zeb fills Toby (and readers) in on his past as a hacker and environmental activist as well as his and Adam's hideously abusive childhood. Along the way, readers catch glimpses of Crake as a boy known as Glenn, see how the survivors of the plague are linked together, and learn the reasons behind Adam One's unusually accurate prediction of the end of humanity … The science of MaddAddam is particularly interesting: When Atwood began the trilogy more than a decade ago, many of the inventions she described sounded much farther-fetched than they do today.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...the biggest, most ambitious book of [Hoffman’s] career … Once Yael and her father make it to Masada, the novel kicks into a higher gear...There’s already a legend associated with Masada, which is passed around by the refugees, of a man who killed his family and then himself, rather than submit to the king. This is, of course, about to be relived on a more horrifying scale … Hoffman is working with harrowing stuff, and The Dovekeepers only gains in power as the Roman soldiers move closer to their destination.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorMitchell divides up the novel by narrator and genre, including literary farce, fantasy, and post-apocalyptic. Holly narrates the first and last section, three men in her life get the middle three, and then there’s the next-to the last section, which is the book’s most problematic. With that one asterisk, Mitchell pulls them all off with aplomb and ample showmanship, tossing off one beautiful line after another … To get hung up on the fifth section’s flaws would be to ignore hundreds of pages of ambitiously creative work and outstanding writing. And if The Bone Clocks might be a little messy, I’d rather re-read it than a too-tidy novel with less on its mind.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe second novel featuring private investigator Cormoran Strike offers a corkscrewing plot and a clever use of both Jacobean revenge dramas and the book-within-a-book plot device. In addition to the mystery, Rowling also wryly sends up the publishing industry – both the traditional and self-published branches … Strike eventually finds Quine, and it looks as if his killer has taken a page from his final novel – arranging a gruesome murder that comes straight from the book. To Strike’s horror, the police are convinced that poor, put-upon Leonora Quine is the one who concocted the Grand Guignol crime scene … While there is no poisoned Bible, à la Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, the text is dripping with enough bile that Strike can come up with a plausible motive for almost every character.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorHelen Simonson’s dryly delightful debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is...one of the most endearing love stories I’ve read in a long time ...Neither the major nor Mrs. Ali were expecting much more from life, and both are startled at the potential widening of their future (But both are careful to call it just a friendship)...As their friendship grows, Major Pettigrew finds himself thrust from his comfortable routine and having to face the fact that Edgecombe St. Mary might not be the staunch remnant of right thinking that he’s loved all these years … Simonson nails the genteel British comedy of manners with elegant aplomb.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIt’s a tale that’s quietly told, with a double handful of isolated characters who have little way of getting news beyond the borders of their well-tended acres. But Williams creates an impressive sense of dread that builds like the piles of garbage growing by the day on the city streets ... When the English Fall is thoughtful and the events are believable – even if the members of the Order are a little too saintly to be so. (The hypocritical, unhappy, or judgmental members of the community remain firmly off-screen.) And Williams lets his characters avoid truly wrenching ethical dilemmas, which might have deepened the novel. But Jacob is written as a witness, not a man of action – and he is so likable Williams just about gets away with it.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorLike Emily Dickinson, Aaliya spends her days alone, writing, in Rabih Alameddine’s contemplative, elegantly constructed new novel, An Unnecessary Woman ...it would be deceptive to say nothing happens in An Unnecessary Woman. Alameddine fits an entire, richly lived life into that day – finding room for war, tragedy, AK-47s, and lots of literature ... Aaliya is a formidable character ... When An Unnecessary Woman offers her what she regards as the corniest of conceits – a redemption arc – it’s a delight to see her take it.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorMax joins a growing throng of Banville's arch and unreliable narrators. Formerly from the lowest strata of society, he's married money and turned himself into someone who uses words like ‘flocculent’ and ‘crepitant’ … Elegantly worded, the novel still has some flaws. The ‘mystic twin’ connection has been done and overdone, and the climactic events may leave readers scratching their heads and flipping back a few pages to see if they missed something. But those who love language will still want to dive into The Sea.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThere are lots of memoirs about starting over after tragedy, about overcoming grief and forging a new life. This is not one of those memoirs. Blue Nights is about loss, in all its forms ... Turning her investigative journalist’s eye inward, Didion’s ability to scrutinize her own consciousness to chronicle that raw time spoke directly to thousands of people reeling from loss ... Frailty is a theme running throughout Blue Nights ... In Blue Nights, her aim is a poignant variant. She wanted to prove 'that my frailty has not yet reached a point at which I can no longer tell a true story.' Not by a long shot.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe gap in Harrison William Shepherd’s personal narrative is big enough for a grown man to swim through. ‘The most important part of the story is the piece you don’t know,’ he is fond of saying. That piece, as author Barbara Kingsolver helpfully explains, is known as a lacuna … The national identities of Mexico and America are forged as Shepherd’s life is narrated through a compilation of journal entries, excerpts from memoirs, newspaper clippings – both real and fake – congressional testimony, and notes from Shepherd’s archivist … Kingsolver’s writing doesn’t lose any of its skill in the last section of the novel. But Shepherd himself is, of emotional necessity, so tightly buttoned down that some of the color drains away when his memoirs focus more directly on himself. The loss of Kahlo’s presence is keenly felt.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...Americans tend to be baffled by this most English of sports, leaving it to be practiced by immigrants from other former British colonies (and the occasional Anglophile), as Joseph O’Neill details in his strikingly written new novel, Netherland ...it’s a precisely rendered examination of the existential malaise experienced by certain city dwellers after the attacks ... In addition, it’s a loving depiction of New York as seen through the eyes of a perpetual outsider ...a sad but generous look at the effects of aftermath on a human life, whether one is grappling with a personal tragedy or horror on a grand scale.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorHosseini tries to go behind the burqa to describe the lives of two women in Kabul … These are obviously noble motives, but the fact that Hosseini began by thinking of his main characters as ‘other’ – to the extent of wondering ‘about their inner lives, whether they had ever had girlish dreams’ – is a huge hurdle...This is unfortunate, since the novel improves substantially, especially after Hosseini switches narrators … But if readers can hang on 90 more pages, A Thousand Splendid Suns takes a turn for the better with the introduction of Laila … Hosseini has aimed high with his second novel. In addition to telling a gripping story, he wants to convey 30 years of Afghan history and praise the endurance of the women of Kabul in the face of titanic oppression.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorTurkish writer Elif Shafak does everything but pull a genie out of a lamp to evoke the 'Thousand and One Nights' in her new novel set in the 16th century ... The Architect’s Apprentice, Shafak’s 10th novel, is a consciously old-fashioned story, recalling folk tales to leisurely recreate Istanbul during the height of the Ottoman Empire. From the orphaned hero who has to rely on his wits to the beautiful princess and animal sidekick, Shafak does everything but open with 'Once upon a time' ...Jahan remains perpetually boyish – a state of suspended emotional development that can surprise a reader when Shafak talks about gray hair and wrinkles ...The Architect’s Apprentice offers an adventure story complete with battles, kings, sea voyages, prisons, disguises, artists, a curse, betrayal, and a Romany king who has a knack for showing up just when he is most needed.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorAs the year progresses toward fall, the three main characters' lives take a darker turn … Messud gets across Bootie's total isolation and lack of emotional intelligence, but she never explains how the teen got this way. The other characters, however, are terrifically rendered – especially Marina and Murray, who could have been monsters of selfishness. Instead, Messud is adroit in handling their insecurities and inner emotions. Her writing is so sure-handed that she doesn't even stumble on the hurdle of the Sept. 11 attacks (although the book ends too abruptly thereafter), and her exploration of entitlement is both witty and astute.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThere are very few writers out there who can write singing German butchers, cross-dressing priests, and teenage boys with equal facility … Round House is more tightly focused and less epic in scope than some of Erdrich's earlier novels. But in addition to Mooshum's antics, the violence is tempered by Joe's and his friends' escapades and the love the extended family has for one another … Joe is an endearing guide and readers will want justice for his mom just as much as he does.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorMcCann harks back to a time when New Yorkers gazed up at the towers in amazement, rather than horror … Told from multiple points of view, McCann performs his own gravity-defying act, swooping from prostitutes to priests, drug-addled artists to grieving mothers as his story unfolds around that morning … In terms of sheer lyricism, McCann pulls out all the stops...He mixes passages of great beauty with the profane heartbreak of a grief-stricken mother, who, in jail, reflects on her powerlessness to protect her daughter from poverty, prostitution, and her own addictions.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...one of the most satisfying Victorian-set novels I’ve read in years ... While the serpent itself proves a slippery beast, Perry brilliantly describes how fear can slither through a population, mesmerizing as it goes ... The nature of faith and faith in nature intertwine throughout Perry’s novel, which has an abiding respect for friendship and a deep humanity.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorMcCarthy takes such B-movie plot devices as an apocalyptic future, cannibalism, and scenes that could have been cut straight from 'Night of the Living Dead' or 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' to craft an existential moral debate about what it means to be alive in a dead world … The love between the father and the son is one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written, and the strength of it helps raise the novel – despite considerable gore – above nihilistic horror … The book's other redeeming feature is the moral debate that McCarthy carries on throughout the novel about whether there is room for goodness in extremis.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorAnjum’s and Tilo’s stories do connect, eventually, but it’s easy to see how a reader could lose patience waiting for that to happen. Those who do not share Roy’s political views on Kashmir – which don’t read here as a screed but are clearly deeply held – also are unlikely to enjoy her new novel, which vividly portrays the brutality inflicted on those even tangentially caught up in the conflict. The stories that stayed with him, one of the characters says, are the ones where 'hope and grief were woven together in it, so tightly, so inextricably.' The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a magpie kind of tale – a heaping collection of tossed-together treasures nested in Roy’s deep sense of compassion for minorities and those cast off by society.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorGillian Flynn's third mystery is burned-coffee black and flavored with cyanide. (As far as I'm concerned, those are compliments of the highest order.) … While Nick is a compulsive liar who can't stop grinning like a fool for the TV cameras, there is no sign of Amy's body. He's either more adept at covering his tracks than he first appears, or he's being set up by the woman who fell for him at first sight … Flynn is a master manipulator, deftly fielding multiple unreliable narrators, sardonic humor, and social satire in a story of a marriage gone wrong.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorNo Country for Old Men is set in 1980. Instead of teenaged cowboys, the border is now populated by drug dealers and hit men, and it appears that most of the beauty has been stripped from the landscape … The pace is deliberately grim and airless – the book has little of the space and quiet that resonated beneath All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"Obreht layers story upon story, creating something almost as dense as a baklava. In the middle of one, she’ll pause to reveal the complete history of the village’s lone gun, which is soon to be put to use hunting tigers. Readers with no taste for tangents will want to seek elsewhere. The Tiger’s Wife can be gorgeous, but the plot doesn’t so much run in a line as glory in atmospheric tangles. Ladies and tigers have been united memorably several times before in literature, from limericks to short stories. Obreht’s evocative novel should rank among the most indelible pairings of all.\
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorEilis is almost a parody of 1950s femininity. She’s sweet; curvy; attractive but not alarmingly so; good at school but not ambitious; and above all, biddable. Throughout the novel, she does what she’s told … Eilis, with her sheeplike docility, would be easy to mock, but Tóibín absolutely refuses to condescend to her … Tóibín carefully details Eilis’s life, first in Enniscorthy, then in Brooklyn, quietly commemorating the everyday by his close attention … The ending of Brooklyn is a masterpiece of quiet reflection, bringing up deep emotions submerged under the placid exterior and giving the novel an ache that will linger for days.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorStrout creates a melancholy world where parents pine for their grown children, spouses grieve in marriages grown cold with misunderstanding, and yet where hope, humor, and a kind of quiet endurance remain … Strout makes a reader feel protective, even tender, toward Olive – despite her prickliness … A reader would want to hug Olive, if she weren’t likely to swat one away like a low-flying bat … Each of the 13 tales serves as an individual microcosm of small-town life, with its gossip, small kindnesses, and everyday tragedies.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorOrphans, plucky children with a disability, cursed gemstones, World War II. Anthony Doerr combines all of the above in his new novel, All the Light We Cannot See – and pulls it off with stylistic aplomb … The curse surrounding the diamond is the least interesting part of the novel: During World War II, there were enough real sources of death and tragedy that a mythological one was hardly needed. And Marie-Laure, Werner, and their companions are so compelling, readers don’t need a shiny trinket to keep turning pages … [Doerr] deftly guides All the Light We Cannot See toward the day Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s lives intersect during the bombing of Saint-Malo in what may be his best work to date.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorTartt’s books submerge you for the duration until you emerge, blinking, in the sunlight at the end, wondering how the laundry pile got so big and just how many meals you might have missed … The Goldfinch is most often described as Dickensian, which is an apt comparison, both for the big, entertaining plot and the orphan who gets swept along on adventures … If the first half of the novel is a coming-of-age story, the second is the reckoning as Theo gets pulled into the shadowy underworld of forgery, art thieves, and organized crime...by that point, a reader is happy to follow Theo – who, like another Dickens character, most definitely is not the hero of his own life – wherever The Goldfinch flies.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorPenelope Lively has a wry ability to skewer – and the generosity to pull back before things get vicious ... offer[s] an unusual combination of a generous heart and an unflinching gaze, a mix of perspicacity and grace both uncommon and needed.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorElizabeth Strout is a master of silences and small-town resignation … It’s not necessary to have read Lucy Barton to follow the residents of Amgash, Ill. – although for those who have, Anything Is Possible offers additional news of characters like Marilyn McCauley, Charlie’s wife, and Mississippi Mary, who nursed her cheating husband through cancer and then, once he was well, ran off to Italy with a man 20 years her junior. Lucy Barton puts in an appearance with her first trip home to Amgash to see her siblings … Many of the characters...are copers – dealing with death, abuse, and fizzled dreams. In Anything Is Possible, permission to grieve is often received as a moment of grace.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorArden wins points for coming up with one of the most believable explanations I’ve yet read for why a loving father would bring home a wicked stepmother: He had no choice ... Early reviews have compared the novel to Naomi Novik’s utterly delightful Uprooted. The Bear and the Nightingale doesn’t quite have the satisfying lift-off of that Nebula-winning novel – it devotes too many pages to a brother whose subplot never materializes, and hints about Vasilisa’s maternal line are never satisfyingly explored. But Vasya remains a clever, stalwart girl determined to forge her own path in a time when women had few choices. I can also count on one hand the number of novels I’ve read set in medieval Rus – before Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe ads are long gone and her poetry is out of print. But a new century is lucky enough to be introduced to Ms. Fishback, at least in fictional form, in Kathleen Rooney’s witty new novel ... 'The point of living in the world is just to stay interested,' Lillian thinks at one point. Time spent with Ms. Boxfish could never be boring.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] captivating new novel ... Moonglow may be less showy than some of his earlier works, but Chabon manages to pull off a disappearing act while laying bare generations of secrets ... the 'mishmash' of Moonglow is definitely rich with meaning.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] virtuoso new novel ... The novel explores the lifelong relationship – a complicated mix of love, jealousy, competition, and misunderstanding – along with race, cultural appropriation, what it means to be a strong woman, and the careless side effects of celebrity do-gooderism. But it does it all with the élan of one of the 1930s hoofers that Tracey and the narrator obsessively watch on VHS tapes.
PositiveThe Christian ScienceToday Will Be Different slows a bit when Semple has to work in Eleanor’s memories of disastrous encounters with New Orleans’s high society at its most useless and lethally snobbish ... Today Will Be Different is a witty delight. And, as another, vastly different heroine once remarked, tomorrow is another day.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorPatchett has a deep sense of empathy for her characters. In Commonwealth these wary strangers – who start out unwillingly mushed together by a betrayal – find that shared history and kindness aren't the worst foundations on which to build a family.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWhile The Nix isn’t a campus novel like Richard Russo’s Straight Man or Francine Prose’s Blue Angel, Hill deftly satirizes academia over the course of a tour de force sequence of arguments ... The Nix is smart without being pretentious ... But in addition to being a smart novel, The Nix is an empathetic one.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...written with the kind of old-fashioned craftsmanship and artisanal care that her characters would respect. It’s the kind of tale made for a week-long vacation ... combines the dream-like quality of a fairy tale with a multigenerational family saga. It is occasionally reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s folk tales and a less-fraught The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorGyasi has delivered something unbelievably tough to pull off: a centuries-spanning epic of interlinked short stories. Each character gets only one chapter, yet most are so vividly and empathetically drawn that you get a sense of both the span of their lives and the events that shaped it, from the Fugitive Slave Act to the Anglo-Asante wars. She has a poet’s ability to paint a scene with a handful of phrases.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorAt the novel’s heart is the extraordinary little boy who has enough love to bridge both families and not crack under the weight of the peacemaking role he was thrust into as a kindergartner ... It’s not necessary to have read The Round House or The Plague of Doves to be awed by Erdrich’s expert weaving of a family saga. But those who have will recognize familiar faces, such as Father Travis, the veteran turned priest who exorcises his PTSD with compulsive exercise and trawls dive bars for lost souls.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor[The] broadening of viewpoints can make the plot feel more diffuse, especially since not every character holds readers’ attentions as well as the two fools of the piece. But, from the physical comedy to the comeuppances, Russo, who knows where every barrel of toxic waste is buried in town, remains ultimately in control of his big-hearted, calloused novel. The characters may never figure out how to prepare ramps, but this tourist will always welcome a chance to drop back in on North Bath.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorMichigan comes through every precisely rendered detail, from the Faygo soda and Better Made chips to the neighborhoods where enterprising thieves will lift entire garages off their foundations for the scrap metal ... With The Turner House, Flournoy has written an utterly unsentimental love story that, rather like the house on Yarrow Street, manages to make room for everyone.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWorld War I is well-trodden literary and historical territory, and several plot twists will be easily guessable by readers. But Simonson has lost none of her dry wit ... With its scents of the sea and tomato plants growing in the sun, The Summer Before the War offers a wry, melancholy landscape of a summer of tea parties and village fetes, before the mud and the bullets.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorHans’s unwillingness to write off his dad as a womanizing, alcoholic monster gives the novel a poignancy it needs to avoid being yet another clichéd portrait of a genius who handcrafted his own downfall. (Milo’s inexhaustable drinking ultimately takes a toll on his body in ways that can be painful for his family to witness – and even for a reader to read.)
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorHow the novellas are connected is best discovered during the reading, but the final result is a meditation on grieving and faith that makes for Man Booker Prize winner Martel’s most satisfying book since Life of Pi.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIf Aboulela were less deft, The Kindness of Enemies would come across as a heavy-handed polemic. Instead, the empathy with which she draws characters trying to straddle shifting fault lines emerges as a vital ingredient to understanding our own less-than-simple times.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorRobinson’s worldview is far too benevolent for her writing to ever become nagging or hectoring. And at bedrock, her work always argues in favor of human decency and human progress.