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Book Reviews

Far From the Tree- Andrew Solomon:

” As a psycho-sociological study, it’s important and unrivaled; no one has ever collated this amount of evidence before. … Throughout, Solomon proves a calm and likable guide- open, curious, nonjudgmental, not too politically correct and also possessed of a sense of humor and honesty, which you imagine, endeared him to his subjects.” Julie Myerson- New York Times Book Review  By reading his book I got inspired to do a little trip on my uno scooter to clear my mind out.

The Black Box- Michael Connelly:

The Black Box does not quite maintain the level of the best previous Bosch novels, nor of the two that feature his marvelous Lincoln Lawyer. However, Michael Connelly is never less than a total pro, and the present tale moves swiftly and the leaves the reader happily anticipating the next adventure.” Robert Croan- Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Look at this house loan short term rates comparison to see what I mean.

Umbrella- Will Self:

” Whether Umbrella takes experimental fiction beyond the magnificent cul-de-sac into which Joyce steered it is doubtful. But this fresh reminder of the potential of finding new selves- to be and to write with- is extraordinary.” Sheena Joughin- UK Telegraph.

The River Swimmer- Jim Harrison:

” The 75 year old Harrison may or may not be reflecting on his own relevance, but his 35th book, The River Swimmer, proves that he’s got nothing to worry about. … The two novellas masterfully treat themes that will be familiar to Harrison readers- the disjunction between contemporary life and rural terrain, our inability to escape the past, the vapidity of urbanity.” Ted Hart- Kansas City Star.

Blue Nights- Joan Didion:

Ms. Didion’s heartbreaking new book, Blue Nights, is at once a loving portrait of Quintana and a mother’s conflicted effort to grapple with her grief through words: the medium the author has used throughout her life to try to make sense of the senseless. It is a searing inquiry into loss and a melancholy meditation on mortality and time.” Michiko Kakutani- New York Times.

Steve Jobs- Walter Isaacson:

” Jobs can be summed up in his own advertising slogan: Think different. He did, and Isaacson is to be commended for explaining the genius of Jobs in fascinating fashion, launching a discussion that could reach infinity and beyond.”

Arguably- Christopher Hitchens:

” That Christopher Hitchens is the most compelling polemicist writing in English today is proven by his latest collection, and the point is given sharpness by the fact that he won’t be writing for much longer. … The value of his prose comes from the depth of his conviction- often child-like in its clarity- and the startling breadth of his erudition.” Amol Rajan- UK Independent.

11/22/63- Stephen King:

” Jake may wear a similarly white hat, but his efforts to rewrite the past in his own image also dabble in black magic, of the sort that tempts every great quester searching to write the story of a different and better future. as 11/22/63 proves anew, King is one of them, and his latest quest merits a journey of your own to your favorite bookstore.”  Mike Fischer- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Zone One- Colson Whitehead:

Zone One may not reinvent zombies, but it does push them, as earlier masters of the genre did before, to someplace modern and adjacent: a place ripe for metaphorical and emotional exploit.” Chris Kammerud-

 The Litigators- John Grisham:

” Grisham’s winning recipe- sympathetic characters and gripping drama- is missing. … Sadly, the ratcheting-up of suspense, the way Grisham so effectively pulls us into his stories- he did it in his last two legal thrillers, The Confession and The Associate- is missing.” Carol Memmott- USA Today.

Nightwoods- Charles Frazier:

” Now we have Nightwoods– part roman noir, part overcorrection of an earlier overcorrection- and, I regret to say, a tale of good vs. evil that sinks its teeth into the reader expertly, and ends in a cloud of unrealized possibilities whose most recognizable forms are its undeveloped plot twists and turns. … What makes Nightwoods compelling reading is Frazier’s subtle, sinuous prose, sometimes expressed in icy-apt descriptive phrases.”  Bruce Allen- Charlotte Observer.

Damned- Chuck Palahnuik:

” By any definition of the word ‘decency’ it’s been a long time since Chuck Palahnuik has wrote a decent book. … But he shows new signs of life in Damned, a book full of tastefully hilarious gallows humor about a teenage girl in hell.”   Janet Maslin- New York Times.

Ed King- David Guterson:

” Ed King is dense with his customary needle-sharp prose; Guterson even drove me to my Bullfinch’s to track the clever allusions to his sources. … Those old stories [from Homer, Ovid, and Sophocles] survived millennia because They tell us about the human condition. Brave writers like Guterson can renew them to observe that some things are taboo for good reason; go ahead and break them, but there’s no avoiding the consequences.” Anne Saker- Oregonian.

Hallucinations- Oliver Sacks:

” Readers may find Hallucinations a bit lacking in[personal stories], since most of the clinical anecdotes here are quite brief. But a whole chapter of Hallucinations centering on his regular use of amphetamines, morphine, and LSD in the 1960’s, is vintage Sacks.” Suzanne Koven- Boston Globe. 

Waging Heavy Peace- Neil Young:

” Waging Heavy Peace can be frustrating at times, repetitive or evasive or cliched in spots, and Young has a cavalier attitude toward such things as dates. But get into its rhythm and you’ll be rewarded with the kind of storytelling that has made Young’s music so evocative.” Colette Bancroft- St. Petersburg Times.  

Life After Death- Damien Echols:

” When Echols is waxing philosophical from his cell, the writing can be beautiful. … Echols’ 18 years of suffering shines a bright light on the flaws in our prison and judicial systems.” Mark Stoeltje- San Antonio Exp-News.

Elsewhere, A Memoir- Richard Russo:

“Russo is a lighthearted fellow who sees the humor in the melancholy, the melancholy in the humor. … He has explicated his own fiction writing, the way he blends and fuses the roguish and the dark without ever giving way to bitterness.”  Betsy Willeford- Miami Herald.  

My American Revolution- Robert Sullivan:

“Robert Sullivan is a master of the wandering digression. In an age of sound bites and Twitter- When less is sold as more- that may not seem like praise. But for patient and curious readers, Sullivan’s My American Revolution: Crossing the Delaware and I-78 is a delightful and quirky history lesson.” Bob Minzesheimer- USA Today.

The Racketeer- John Grisham:

” I dearly hope this is another John Grisham book that makes it onto the big screen. … One of the prizes that come in any box labeled John Grisham is an insider’s view of an important subject, in the case the American criminal justice system.” John Greenya- Washington Times.

Live by Night- Dennis Lehane:

” It’s a perfect noir setup, and Lehane is skillful enough to make Joe’s passion as convincingly all-consuming as that experienced by any of the besotted fall guys penned by such masters as James M. Cain or Cornell Woolrich.” Dick Lochte- Los Angeles Times.

Back to Blood- Tom Wolfe:

” Wolfe, 81, has long been celebrated for the energy of his writing and for what one book jacket calls his ‘stylistic legerdemain.’ But in Back to Blood, all that style feels like schtick, a feeling that only deepens as his unfortunate choices accumulate.”  Ken Armstrong- Seattle Times.

Sweet Tooth- Ian McEwan:

” His new book is a genial, if flawed, foray into John le Carre territory- a wisecracking thriller hightailing between love and betrayal, with serious counter-espionage credentials thrown in. … Disappointingly, McEwan’s customary ‘wilful narrative sadism’is largely missing from Sweet Tooth.”  Catherine Taylor-UK Telegraph.

The Round House- Louise Erdrich:

“In Erdrich’s hands, you may find yourself, as I did, embracing the prospect of vigilante justice as regrettable but reasonable, a way to connect timeless wisdom about human behavior. It wasn’t until I put the book down that I recognized-and marveled at-the clever way i had been manipulated.” Maria Russo- NY Times Book Review. 

Wild- Cheryl Strayed:

” There are adventures and characters aplenty, from heartwarming to dangerous, but Strayed resists the temptation to overplay or sweeten such moments. Her pacing is impeccable as she captures her impressive journey, unafraid to show inevitable moments of monotony.” Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett- Seattle Times

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal- Jeanette Winterson:

” The first half of this coming-of-age story is arresting and suspenseful, even though we know perfectly well that Jeanette will remain a lesbian, despite her mother’s best efforts, and will become a bestselling and influential writer. … She swoops between present and past, between narrative and contemplation, with grace and economy.” Valerie Sayers- Washington Post 

Farther Away-Jonathan Franzen:

” [A] new collection of essays that’s beautifully written, but bland. … Franzen still blasts everything from lawn mowers to MFAs to Microsoft Word, but he rarely aims the prickliness at larger issues.” Craig Fehrman- San Francisco Chronicle

2312- Kim Stanley Robinson:

” This excellent futuristic science fiction features the brilliant Robinson solar system, so vivid it seems like it is a present day reality rather than a vision of what might be in three centuries. … However, the key is that this far seeing enlightenment is interwoven with a well written action-packed investigative conspiracy thriller.” Harriet Klausner- SF Revu

The Chemistry of Tears- Peter Carey:

” Despite the Victorian backdrop, this is not rampant, costumed Victoriana, but masterly historical fiction that both talks about now, and makes the past seem immediate. … I loved this book for the mysteries, its hinted back stories, its reserve, and its underlying complexity.” Lucy Daniel- UK Telegraph

Schmidt Steps Back- Louis Begley:

 Begley gets as close to Schmidt as a diarist, inhabiting this man who has been seasoned by a long life and yet somehow seems new this morning. … We get so close to him in this intimately written book that he can be annoying, not unlike an uncle we’ve come to know all too well.” Ron Carlson- NYTimes Book Review  

In One Person- John Irving:

” This is Irving’s most political novel since The Cider House Rules, but an air of sadness, not anger or passion, permeates it. It seems he wants to lower the volume of our raucous public conversation on issues such as gay marriage by constructing the story around a group of customarily odd, but intensely appealing, characters.” Harvey Freedenberg- Minneapolis Star Tribune

Canada-Richard Ford:

” Ford has built his peerless reputation writing a uniquely proprietary version of the common man, one who resists the examined life with amiable taciturnity, who views regret as a waste of time. … Ford writes the kind of marooned-on-a-desert-island books that force you to question why you need to read anyone else.” Emily Donaldson- Toronto Star        

Wish You Were Here- Graham Swift:

” [A] bleak novel, which belongs on that select list of good, depressingly unforgettable novels along with Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road and Swift’s own Waterland. As in many of Swift’s novels, information is provisional, and events are initially told in fragments, and then, eventually those fragments are pieced together into a more complete picture.” John Broening- Denver Post

The Cove- Ron Rash:

The Cove is never less than a pleasure to read because of Rash’s rhythmic, sharply observed prose. … The Conplexity that made the title character in Serena so memorable is missing from anyone in The Cove, a flaw that prevents it from taking an equal position with Rash’s best work.” Jeff Baker- Oregonian

Half-Blood Blues- Esi Edugyan:

” On the surface, with its colorful scenes of playing, drinking and bickering among a mixed-race ensemble called the Hot Time Swingers, Edugyan’s second novel could be a relatively conventional story of the jazz life. But she tweaks the formula by splitting the book’s action between the chaos of 1939 Europe and modern times as old friends struggle to reconcile with a past that shaped them as men and as artists.” Chris Barton- Los Angeles Times

Bird Cloud- Annie Proulx:

” A chronicle of Proulx’s experiences trying to build a house on 640 acres of nature preserve she calls Bird Cloud, it is dominated by the unfiltered agonizing of someone who has taken on a regrettable real estate venture. … What Proulx has brought so generously to her Wyoming fiction – an elegiac pursuit of story – she has brought too sparingly to these nonfiction pages.” Alexandria Fuller- NY Times Book Review

The Border Lords- T. Jefferson Parker

” There’s been a great deal of first-rate journalism on this corrosive crisis [rugs and arms trafficking] – some substantial part of it in this newspaper – but no novelist or short story writer in either English or Spanish has come close portraying its depths and their implications as well, or as artfully, as Parker. … It’s a book that stands firmly in the entertaining, hard boiled tradition and yet artfully demands serious consideration purely as a superior work of fiction.” Tim Rutten- Los Angeles Times

The Sentry-

” The minor characters are also effectively – and economically – drawn, especially a slacker who provides critical information and a personable Latino drug lord who represents the modern face of organized crime. … [Crais] captures the gritty beauty of Venice, where millionaires and Latino gangs co-exist and works the Venice canals cleverly into the plot.” Shawna Seed- Dallas Morning News

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe- Andrew O’Hagan:

” The author, although he largely has the measure of her … is plainly in thrall to [Marilyn Monroe], and his narrative, so measured and sceptical elsewhere, rises to the level of rhapsody when he is writing about her. … Maf the Dog, like Lolita, like The Great Gatsby, is a threnody for lost innocence.” John Banville- UK Guardian

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey- Walter Mosley:

” Mosley’s latest work skews far from his popular gumshoe page turners, but he still unravels a mystery – of two people with the same needs from different stages of life.” Vincent T. Davis- San Antonio Express News

Destiny and Desire- Carlos Fuentes, Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman:

Destiny and Desire is a towering work. … Fuentes has created a work that will hold the reader in its pages. Insisting that the reader focus on philosophical issues as basic as right and wrong as well as the intimate lives of the character.” Robin Vidimos- Denver Post

Clara and Mr. Tiffany- Susan Vreeland:

” Vreeland’s description of the processes involved in producing stained glass pieces – from glassblowing to choosing the perfect colors and cutting thousands of pieces of glass to render the flower or butterfly or seasonal motif -are fascinating, making Clara and Mr. Tiffany not only an enjoyable read, but an illuminating one as well.” Jean Graham- NJ Star Ledger

In the Garden of Beasts- Erik Larson:

” Larson re-creates the almost unbearable tension, and the book becomes a page turner, even though readers have some idea of what will ultimately happen in Germany. … In the end, In the Garden of  Beasts is a stunning, provocative immersion into Berlin caught up in the powers of government, money and corruption.” Catherine Mallette-Ft Worth Star Telegram

Malcolm X, a Life of Reinvention– Manning Marable:

” What… does this biography offer that is unavailable from the Autobiography? Quite a lot, as it turns out. … It details the social and political context in which Malcolm lived, shedding light on the extraordinary power of the Ku Klux Klan during Malcolm’s childhood, describing the quasi-Islamic organizations that preceded the Nation of Islam, and explaining the beliefs and inner workings of the Nation and of the two organizations that Malcolm founded toward the end of his short life: the Islamic group Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the pan-African Organization for Afro-American Unity.” Geoff Wisner- Christian Science Monitor

The Fifth Witness- Michael Connelly:

” Connelly’s breathtaking mastery of suspense continues to grow, and part of what makes it work so well in the Haller books is that he has perfected Mickey’s voice: confident to the point of cockiness, yet always crafty. … You might want to save reading The Fifth Witness until you can carve out a good chunk of time- once you begin, you won’t want to put it down.” Colette Bancroft- St. Petersberg Times

The Pale King- Daniel Foster Wallace:

” By turns breathtakingly brilliant and stupefying dull-funny, maddening and elegiac- The Pale King will be minutely examined by longtime fans for the reflexive light it sheds on Wallace’s oeuvre and his life. But it may also snag the attention of newcomers, giving them a window- albeit a flawed window- int this immensely gifted writer’s vision of the human condition as lived out in the middle of the middle of America, toward the end of the 20 century, by worker bees employed as number crunchers for the federal government, worried that they are going to be replaced by computers.” Michiko Kakutani- New York Times

The Color of Night- Madison Smartt Bell:

” Over a spare 208 pages, [Mae] is revealed to be neither likeable nor particularly sympathetic, even once you’ve fully grasped her formative childhood trauma. But she is human … and her story is believable.” Ronnie Crocker- Houston Chronicle 

All the Time in the World- E.L. Doctorow:

All the Time in the World features six new stories as well as other Doctorow classics, and they’re all distinctive, sharply focused, glistening with crisp language. … Savor All the Time in the World for its elegance, its intuition and for Doctorow’s understanding of the complexity of the human drama.” Connie Ogle- Miami Herald

Say Her Name- Francisco Goldman:

” For most of the book he explores the before and after while dancing around the details of what actually happened. The effect is powerful. As the story builds- inevitably, unbearably- toward Aura’s last day. Goldman has so convincingly brought her to life that her death still somehow comes as a shock.” Rob Brunner- Entertainment Weekly

Thinking, Fast and Slow- Daniel Kahneman:

” [A] tour de force of psychological insight, research explication and compelling narrative that brings together in one volume the high points of Mr. Kahneman’s notable contributions, over five decades, to the study of human judgement, decision making and choice. … Mr. Kahneman’s stated goals are minimalist: to ‘enrich the vocabulary that people use’ when they talk about decisions, so that his readers benefit from his work at the ‘proverbial watercooler, where opinions are shared and gossip is exchanged.’ Such modesty is rare and inspiring.” Christopher F. Chabris- Wall Street Journal

Catherine the Great- Robert K. Massie:

” Certainly no biographer writes better. The pleasures of this biography are evident as Massie deftly introduces Catherine, a rather plain-looking daughter of an obscure noble family whose prospects would hardly forecast her illustrious future.” Carl Rollyson- Minneapolis Star Tribune

Distrust That Particular Flavor- William Gibson:

” Straightforwardly addressing the concepts that lie below his stories’ surfaces, Distrust may disprove the anthropological dictum its author introduces via another transcribed speech, this one from 2010: that ‘one cannot know ones’ own culture.’ If one can’t know it, one can at least enjoy examining it through the diamond lens of Gibson’s always elegant prose.” Nisi Shawl- Seattle Times   

The Ecstasy of Influence- Jonathan Lethem:

” The books structure-thematic sections, individually introduced and book-ended by chapters titled ‘My Plan So Far’ and ‘What Remains of My Plan’- allows Lethem to annotate his own work and note when it ‘irks’ him. … It’s grand performance (Lethem favors the word ‘Kabuki’), and delivered with a wink.” Jenny Hnedrix- San Francisco Chronicle 

Death Comes To Pemberley- P.D. James:

” But underneath the restrained surface [of this seemingly conventional English mystery] is a much darker current- of blackmail, abandonment, madness- which you might expect from one of  the world’s great mystery writers, a woman who once admitted she was ‘obsessed with death’ from childhood. More than that, James uses Death in Pemberley to examine the plight of women, whose lives were entirely dependent on the success of the marriages they made.” Elizabeth Renzetti- Globe and Mail (Canada)

Feast Day of Fools- James Lee Burke:

” Riveting. … Feast Day is a dark soul mate to [Rain Gods]: violent yet strangely elegant, steadfastly unflinching in its view of mankind as a mostly sorry collection of lost souls fighting a compulsion to drag themselves and each other down into some low circle of perdition.” Connie Ogle- Miami Herald

The Drop- Michael Connelly:

” Be forewarned, however, that The Drop starts out slowly, almost as if the scene is just another ho-hum morning at the squad room a few days after the end of the last case. … Connelly’s talent is summoning underlying suspense from undramatic police procedure. So while the narrative will never put you to sleep, neither will it keep you up.”   Don Oldenburg- USA Today

The Angel Esmeralda- Don DeLillo:

” The title story of DeLillo’s first ever collection of short fiction, is a dazzlingly told tale of despair and ruination, the dream of redemption and the testing of faith. … The other stories in this volume (written between 1979 and 2011) are not nearly as powerful as ‘The Angel Esmeralda,’ but they offer telling insights into Mr. DeLillo’s themes and preoccupations as a writer.” Michiko Kakutani- New York Times

The Prague Cemetery- Umberto Eco, translated from the Italian by Ricahrd Dixon:

” A reader unaware of the underpinning in hard historical facts might begin to languish beneath the tedium of the scheming and ranting, though Eco has tried to relieve the monotony by superimposing a plot concerning his protagonist. … And even if the best parts of The Prague Cemetery are those he did not invent, Eco is to be applauded for bringing this stranger- than- fiction truth vividly to life.” Rebecca Newberger- New York Times Book Review

The Third Bullet- Stephen Hunter:

” At times, the plot turns murkily complex. But author Hunter spent years as movie critic for The Washington Post. That job taught him how to make a plot zing and dialogue to sing.” Harry Levins- St Louis Post Dispatch 

Benediction- Kent Haruf:

Benediction suggests there’s no end to the stories Haruf can tell about Holt or to the tough, gorgeous language he can summon in the process. But the prospect of another novel suggests the drawback of this one: like the characters, it’s genuine but incomplete, dependent on its companions and surroundings.” Paul Elie- New York Times Book Review

Middle C– William Gass:

” At times, he has been all too eager to show off his skills; here he strikes a more subdued, if not slightly somber, note. An academic satire is a peculiar choice for a swan song, but a thoroughly entertaining one that will be remembered long after the music stops playing.” Jim Ruland- Los Angeles Times

The Accursed- Joyce Carol Oates:

” With its vast scope, its mingling of comic and tragic tones, its omnivorous gorging on American literature, and especially its complex reflection on the major themes of our history, The Accursed is the kind of outrageous masterpiece only Joyce Carol Oates could create.”  Ron Charles- Washington Post

The Greater Journey- David McCullough:

” The depth and breadth of McCullough’s research and the exuberance of his storytelling make The Greater Journey a pleasure, but also a frustration. Despite its plethora of interesting information and stories, the book never offers a definitive explanation for why Paris was such a signal destination for 19th century Americans (why not Rome or London?), nor does it draw any conclusions about how Paris influenced the still-youthful nation across the pond.”  Rebecca Steinitz- Boston Globe

Carte Blanche- Jeffery Deaver:

Mr. Deaver follows the Fleming formula well- exotic locations brimming with mustache-twisting villains and a rapid-fire series of unexpected plot twists- but he’s no match for Fleming the stylist. …[A] serviceable Bond script but not a particularly good Bond novel.”  Michael C. Moynihan- Wall Street Journal

Millennium People- J.G. Ballard:

” Much of the fun of Millennium People- and it is one of the most amusing novels I’ve read in a long time- comes from watching as the world finally catches up with Ballard and Ballard , wryly, reacts. If part of him has become a conventional writer it’s because the world has adopted the convnetions that he so idiosyncratically established.” Toby Litt, UK Guardian 

Gettysburg-  Allen C. Guelzo:

“While admitting the serious limitations of soldiers’ postwar reminiscences, Guelzo, with exhaustive research, nevertheless relies on the mass of retellings embedded in regimental histories, memoirs and letters collected from survivors. …This book’s considerable achievements, though, are marred by Guelzo’s literary style, as well as by his apparently irresistible romantic urge to add one more panegyric to the epic of Gettysburg.”

David W. Blight- NY Times Book Review.

Lost Girls- Robert Kolker:

“[Kolker] is able to dispassionately flesh out what it means to grow up not standing much of a chance, as these women did. …What we are left with is a visceral understanding of the lives of the victims and why they should have mattered more.”

Sherryl Connelly- New York Daily News

Joyland- Stephen King:

“The novel is like a plump wad of cotton candy; it fills the mouth with fluffy sweetness that quickly dissolves when the reader starts to chew. …King’s ambition this time around isn’t to snatch us and hold us in his grasp but to loft us up high, then briskly set us down the way a Ferris wheel does. Or our first love.”

Walter Kirn- NY Times Book Review

Red Sparrow- Jason Matthews:

“The pages of this flinty tale are laced with mole hunts, double traps, triple crosses and enough spy tradecraft to fill a manual. …A sizzling plot, high-octane characters and a scorching finish run through this perfect summer novel.”

Carol Memmott- USA Today

Bad Monkey- Carl Hiaasen:

“[T]he plot grows zanier with long stretches given over to crazy characters, including the monkey of the title. …Florida tourism and development officials surely groan whenever Hiaasen produces another of his wacky works set in their state. But readers will enjoy packing Bad Monkey along to the beach.”

Harry Levins- St Louis Post Dispatch

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton– Elizabeth L. Silver:

“A classic slow-burn, with Ms. Silver spinning the web of Noa’s family and friends- all of whom have abandoned her since she has been in prison-and masterfully revealing the threads that connect them (Noa and Marlene)to each other and to the crime. …Noa believes she deserves her punishment, but the nature of her guilt is different than anybody realizes, and she’s withering about the cherished myth of the impartial courtroom.”

Sam Sacks- Wall Street Journal

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves- Karen Joy Fowler:

“A novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get. Holding back (the) surprise until the book’s second quarter is no small authorial feat. But the chimp pops right up in the publisher’s promotional material, and ducking it here would disallow mention of many elements that inform this sly work of art, including science and history.”

Barbara Kingsolver- NY Times Book Review

TransAtlantic- Colum McCann:

“With all these characters engaged in such a variety of endeavors, struggles and tragedies spread across 150 years, it seems strange to speak of  TransAtlantic as a quiet, contemplative novel, but that’s the effect of McCann’s voice. …Complex and demanding as it is, TransAtlantic might not widen McCann’s audience, but it should deepen his fans’ appreciation.” 

Ron Charles, Washington Post 

Nightwoods- Charles Frazier:

“With short chapters and a quickly moving plot, Nightwoods has a rich, poetic writing that Frazier is justly famous for, but instead of luxuriating in historical detail, Nightwoods takes the reader on a fast-paced journey, one that is often violent and sometimes quite thrilling. … With its reclusive, introspective heroine, poetic prose and obsessed, violent antagonist, Nightwoods almost reads like the deliciously twisted love child of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.”

Minneapolis Star Tribune– Laura C.J. Owen    

Posted December 2012.

Nanjing Requiem- Ha Jin:

“As fiction, Mr. Jin’s account is less expressionistic and more controlled than Iris Chang’s history. Indeed, Nanjing Requiem seems written almost as a duty-it is didactic, understandably tendentious retelling of what has come down to us as a black moment in the history of civilization (0r lack thereof).”

Wall Street Journal- Alexander Theroux  

Posted December 2012

The Sense of Ending- Julian Barnes:

“This is a book for the ages,” raved the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and most critics agreed. An Unlikely page-turner, The Sense of Ending heaves with the philosophical ideas– ” the elusiveness of truth, the subjectivity of memory, [and] the relativity of all knowledge” (New York Times)– that distinguish many of Barnes’s prior works. As Barnes peels back the layers of Tony’s recollections, he reveals the cunning, sometimes chilling, ways that, through, selective reminiscence and self-mythologizing, individuals can remain oblivious to their own natures and to the true trajectories of their lives. While USA Today found little to admire, readers (not to mention the Booker Prize Foundation’s hand-picked jury) will no doubt be riveted by this ominous enthralling novel.”

Bookmarks Magazine Jan-Feb 2012.

Posted December 2012

Hallucinations- Oliver Sacks

“For those unacquainted with Sack’s earlier work, Hallucinations is a perfectly respectable place to start, but for those already familiar with such classics as The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, and the more recent Musicophilia, there is pleasure to be gained from the way he cross-references, with one case history-say, in case of the latter, of musical hallucination (some people have both auditory hallucinations of music they’ve never heard, and also ‘see’ equally bizarre musical notation plastered all over their visual field)-reappearing, and being re-examined from a different angle. … I would say that Hallucinations is really the keystone of the amazing edifice that is this remarkable thinker’s oeuvre; a body of work that sets out to do nothing more or less than examine the totality of human being from the perspective of neurology.”

Will Self-  UK Guardian

Posted December 2012

Life After Death- Damien Echols

“Echols is a solid storyteller, so when he’s describing his cell, or his fellow inmates- one looks like Iggy Pop and tapes crickets all over his body- Life After Death is compelling reading, a first-person glimpse into the pure hell of death row. … When Echols reveals too much of what’s rolling around in his head, though, he comes across as ego maniacal and off-putting- the 18-year-old tortured poet comes peeking out through the pen of the hardened inmate.”

Josh Modell- AV Club

Posted December 2012

The Racketeer- John Grisham:

“I dearly hope this is another John Grisham book that makes it onto the big screen… One of the prizes that come in any box labeled John Grisham is an insider’s view of an important subject, in this case the American criminal justice system.”

John Greenya- Washington Times 

Posted December 2012

Dear Life: Alice Munro

” The casually impeccable stories in her latest collection, Dear Life, are somewhat more traditional in that they are largely focused on a defining episode in a character’s life. It’s still possible to piece together a broader history- Munro has a genius, no empty word here, for selecting details that keep unfolding in the reader’s mind- but the scope has tightened.” 

Charles McNulty- Los Angeles Times

Posted December 2012

Sweet Tooth: Ian McEwan

” Sweet Tooth… is definitely mature McEwan, intermittently funny and much more sweet than bitter, about as entertaining as a very intelligent novel can be and vice versa… McEwan has always been a good old-fashioned teller of tales, and the suspense and surprises in this book are well engineered.”

Kurt Anderson- New York Times Book Review

Posted December 2012

The Round House*: Louise Erdridch

” The book’s title refers to the Ojibwe holy place where Geraldine was attacked-and it is the moment Joe first visits the round house, searching for clues to the crime, that the novel morphs from a family drama into a genuine thriller… The novel expertly weaves past and present, allowing Joe to control some of the most crucial scenes with years of reflection under his belt, while still giving us the tunnel-vision immediacy that only a teenager enveloped in those terrifying circumstances could experience.” 

Molly Antopol- San Francisco Chronicle 

* National Book Award

Posted December 2012

The Marriage Plot: Jeffrey Eugenides

“Eugenides, who himself graduated from Brown in 1983, re-creates the feel of that pre-internet, pre-cellphone time with vivid detail: the Plasmatics T-shirts, the toe socks, the crinkly pale-blue aerogram letters to and from friends traveling in Europe, the way everyone in the English department seems to be reading but possibly not understanding Derrida…Eugenides, a master storyteller, has a remarkable way of twisting his narrative in a way that seems effortless; taking us backward and forward in time to fill in details.”

Moira MacDonald- Seattle Times

Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes: William Kennedy

“It’s an attempt to juxtapose Castro’s revolution with the civil rights movement of 1960s United States. Linking them was inspired. Treating them with equal command was harder. But even when Kennedy falters–keeping track of everyone’s relationships is challenging–his language, by turns terse as Hemingway’s and wild as Joyce’s, startles and pleases.

Carlo Wolff- Pittsburgh Post- Gazette

Cain: Jose Saramago

“Once Cain begins his wanderings–essentially time travels through a succession of celebrated Bible stories that take up the rest of the book–things decline sharply. To put it plainly, in this last book the aged author seems to have lost some of his transforming magic, and perhaps even his interest in his principal character; also a measure of control.”

Richard Eder- Boston Globe

1Q84: Haruki Murakami

“One of the most purely negative consequences of [Murakami’s] rupture with tradition is his indifference to trying to write anything approaching beauty…Yet if you can soldier through the prose and some rather tremendous longueurs, you’ll find genuine wisdom and emotional depth in 1Q84.”

Sam Sacks- Wall Street Journal

The Cat’s Table: Michael Ondaatje

“The novel tells of a journey from childhood to the adult world, as well as a passage from the homeland to another country, something of a Dantean experience. The constriction of space intensifies a sense of allegory as a frame surrounds a painting.”

Annie Proulx- UK Guardian

The Cut: George Pelecanos

“Pelecanos clearly knows that he is in the business of entertainment, and he goes about it in a thoroughly professional way…A book that entertains can also enrich, instruct and even enlighten.”

Jonathan Yardley- Washington Post

The Leftovers: Tom Perrotta

“It’s a mark of the novelist’s skill and acute observation that the people are always much more interesting than the eschatological events surrounding them (including the disappearance of ‘John Mellencamp and J. Lo, Shaq and Adam Sandler, Miss Texas and Greta Van Susteren, Vladimir Putin and the pope’)…..With Perrotta at the controls, you buy the set-up and sit back as he takes off and explores these humans in very human terms.”

John Barron- Chicago Sun-Times

The Art of Fielding: Chad Harbach

“Measured against other big, ambitious debuts by striving young writers, The Art of Fielding is surprisingly old-fashioned and almost freakishly well behaved…Failure and success and outside ambition… these are fitting themes for a crowd-pleasing baseball story, yes, but they are also the natural concerns of a serious artist coming to terms with his powerful talent and intentions.”

  Gregory Cowles- New York Times Book Review

Train Dreams: Denis Johnson

“It’s an ordinary life, but one filled with wonders, as all lives are if we only look…. The writing is spare and frequently beautiful; Johnson’s backwoods dialogue and tall tales are often hilarious; and he graces us with such wonderful words as ‘pulchritude’ and ‘confabulation’- it’s a shame we don’t hear them much anymore”

Stephen K. Tollefson- San Francisco Chronicle

  • The Stranger Child: Alan Hollinghurst  

“It is a shame, these words we tend to hurl at gorgeously written novels. You know – words like “lapidary” and “spellbinding” that reduce the dazzling accretion of detail into a pile of blurbage. There really is no other way to describe “The Stranger’s Child,” which charts the Byzantine alliances and insults that transform a cadre of relatives around a cheese plate into a bloodcurdling tableau. In five novella like sections, Hollinghurst relates the fallout of a love triangle between libertine poet Cecil Valance and the siblings George and Daphne, which reach beyond their family peccadilloes into the present.”

Sarah Smith –  Austin Chronicle

Lost Memory of Skin: Russell Banks

“Banks, who often chronicles the lives of people on the edges of American society, turns his talents in “Lost Memory of Skin” to what many people probably consider a particularly distasteful group- convicted sex offenders.

At the center of this complex novel is a young man known only as the Kid. Along with dozens of other convicts on probation, he lives with his pet iguana under a causeway in a South Florida city that resembles Miami. On his leg is a GPS monitoring device that alerts authorities whenever he goes near a place where children might be, and the causeway turns out to be the only available home for him and other offenders.

The Kid has little human contact until the arrival of the Professor, a sociologist who’s researching the homeless. The Professor takes an interest in the Kid and tries to help him rejoin society. But the Professor also has a past-one that leads to a moral reckoning for the Kid.

Banks however, rarely deals with easy moral decisions. In “Lost Memory of Skin,” he challenges our perceptions about people who have been marginalized and outcast.”

Charles Early

A Dance with Dragons: George R. R. Martin

“Fans of a Song of Ice and Fire will surely think the wait was worth it. …The great attraction of the story must lie in its panorama of a medieval kingdom: knights in armor, mercenary ‘sellswords,’ tavern wenches, struggling and surviving inhabitants in all forms, from low to high.” 

Tom Shippey- Wall Street Journal   

The Devil’s Light: Richard North Patterson

” Scrupulously researched and maybe the best thriller the San Francisco author has written… Patterson is a serious student of human psychology and world politics; he slows down the pace just enough to help us understand who and what is at stake besides our trembling selves, as we worry about where we might be if and when that rogue bomb explodes about a thousand feet above the ground we stand on.”

Alan Cheuse- San Francisco Chronicle

Faith: Jennifer Haigh

“Its relatively easy to tell a story in black and white. The art lies in writing nuanced shades of gray. Faith  is painted with a palette of many tones, its outlines of its character sharp and sharply human.”

Robin Vidimos- Denver Post

“Haigh brings a refreshing degree of humanity to a story you think you know well, and in chapters both riveting and profound, she catches the avalanche of guilt this tragedy unleashes in one devout family…Every time the story threatens to sink too ponderously into its philosophical concerns, the plot takes some new, startling turn, and every time that quick pace threatens to blur the novel’s deeper themes, Haigh suspends the action and forces us to consider the murky dimensions of faith and sin.”

Ron Charles- Washington Post

A Moment in the Sun: John Sayles

“Sayles breathtaking precisions and attention t o detail can make E.L. Doctorow’s historical novels look puny and slapdash by comparison. His ability to map the intersections of scores of plots and hundreds of fictional and real-life characters is truly stunning.” Adam Langer- San Francisco Chronicle

“This novel will probably be praised as a distant mirror of contemporary history, of Vietnam and Iraq, and it is that. But its true importance lies not in its rear view relevance but in its commitment to recalling in heroic detail a little-known and contradictory historical moment.”

Tom LeClair- New York Times Book Review

James Salter, A Sport and a Pastime

“The encounters of Dean and Anne-Marie seem not to require reading but sensing, as if the touch of the eye were almost too much for reality. And when the last dream breaks, it is not with a shatter but a silent splintering of crystal fragments.”

Time Magazine Review

John le Carre, Our Kind of Traitor:

“Our Kind of Traitor is fueled by Le Carre’s familiar rage at corporate greed and amorality, but it is kept in close check: like so much of what he writes, the violence, cruelty and real horror are off-stage, while the less obvious violence is front and centre, in the amoral and treacherous world of money-broking, money-laundering, influence-selling and unprincipled politics… Our Kind of Traitor builds to a masterful climax, and is over almost before you know it”

Ian Campbell, UK Scotsman

William Gibson, Zero History

“Zero History is easily the funniest of Gibson’s novels. There is much less darkness to it and a more explicit sense of wonder…The final hundred pages becomes a wee bit mechanical-a caper, really, like a London Ocean’s 11, with Hollis’s boyfriend, Garreth, in the George Clooney role.”

Mark Feeny- Boston Globe

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Jonathan Franzen, Freedom

New York Times: “With this book, he’s not only created an unforgettable family, he’s also completed his own transformation from a sharp-elbowed, apocalyptic satirist focused on sending up the socio-economic-political plight of this country into a kind of 19th –century realist concerned with the public and private lives of characters…Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet-a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times.”

Michiko Kakutani

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