RaveThe Milwaukee Journal Sentinel...a trilogy that belongs in the pantheon with the greatest works of Arthur C. Clarke, one of Liu's self-declared precursors. Liu offers brain-busting thrills for the reader who thrives on hard-science speculation, but has plenty of love for the troubled human conscience, too ... I recommend it to you.
Ghost TalkersMary Robinette Kowal
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal Sentinel...creat[es] a world different enough from ours to be fresh but close enough to this one to feel real ... Kowal also takes on, at times pugnaciously, the classism, sexism and racism of the British Army brass of that time period ... I'd welcome the chance to learn more about Stuyvesant's past and see what use she might make of her gift in the future.
Multiple ChoiceAlejandro Zambra
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelWhile committing these metafictional and postmodern pranks, Zambra also crisply fictionalizes romantic and parental woes and mocks hypocritical Chilean society ... Based on the outcome of Multiple Choice, Zambra is superbly equipped to major in writing fiction about the unhappiness of human beings, with secondary concentrations in lampooning hypocrisy and satirizing repression. I recommend you admit him to your reading list immediately.
The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelWhitehead threads this alternative reality ingeniously through this otherwise realistic and often harrowing novel ... Whitehead never flinches in portraying the worst elements of the slave experience and the accompanying racist language. He also delineates many secondary and tertiary characters so crisply that I never had to stop to figure out or remember who was who. Whitehead's book is a novel, not an op-ed. But I can't help feeling that it also communicates a message for today: The Underground Railroad is still under construction. Keep swinging your pickax.
The Paper MenagerieKen Liu
RaveThe Philadelphia InquirerTo call [Liu's] book one of the best collections of speculative fiction I've ever read is simply to begin my praise. Liu's book compiles brilliant stories written in several different, overlapping modes, a technically dazzling collection of compulsively readable narratives, presenting characters with agonizing moral dilemmas and never forgetting the heart.
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelGyasi has captured that feeling of time in a novel that dramatizes the consequences of slavery and the African diaspora from 18th-century Ghana through contemporary America in graceful prose that never wastes a word ... Gyasi writes with empathy for her characters and judicious restraint in her style. Even so, many lines demand to be savored ... A generation later, a different teacher urges Yaw's bookworm daughter to find books that 'she could feel inside of her.' For many readers, Homegoing will be one of those books.
300 ArgumentsSarah Manguso
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelHer biting collection of aphorisms merits a wide audience, especially of people taking life on the Mithridates plan of self-inoculation against the world's toxins. But be forewarned that Manguso's bracing words often suggest those toxins are self-generated ... She offers a master class in a specific strain of desire: envy, the (often resentful) longing to have what someone else has. To rip off a Chris Hedges title, for Manguso sometimes envy is a force that gives her life meaning ... My field test for writing like this: Does it produce a rueful inner smile or shudder of recognition? Manguso's arguments do so many times.
Make TroubleJohn Waters
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal Sentinel...a commencement address I consumed with joy, will likely read again and would be happy to give to young people — especially brooding, complicated young people. (Yes, you.) Its pleasures are enhanced by playful typography and droll, sketchy illustrations by Eric Hanson ... Like Hairspray, Make Trouble fulfills its genre expectations while also gloriously subverting them.
Janesville: An American StoryAmy Goldstein
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelShe deftly introduces and follows a cross-section of affected autoworkers and their families, community members and leaders through the years, writing in present tense to heighten the immediacy of their challenges and responses ... Like Matthew Desmond's Evicted, Goldstein's Janesville offers many reminders that many working Americans are only one or two bad breaks and decisions away from disaster.
Go Set a WatchmanHarper Lee
MixedThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelIt's not a sequel to but readers will struggle not to read it like one.
It also is not a very good novel. Written by an unknown rather than Harper Lee, it would never have been published. For its publisher to claim that Watchman 'stands as a magnificent novel in its own right' is cynical and gets me wondering, cynically, who will spend the profits generated by it.
Nonetheless, Watchman is worth reading as a historical and literary artifact. It's the kind of manuscript, like James Joyce's Stephen Hero, that often emerges after a writer's death — a first grappling with subjects and themes that a powerful writer later sculpts into a masterpiece.
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelParetsky's tale of a big-city private investigator who turns a small town inside out put me in mind of Dashiell Hammett's classic Red Harvest. But here's a key difference: Hammett's Continental Op deliberately sets out to tear the burg apart. Warshawski's destabilizing magic is just the byproduct of the convoluted thread she keeps yanking — and of her passion for the underdog ... In contrast to loner private eyes of yore, Warshawski is a thoroughly related person who relies on a network of friends and helpers, and who finds time to care for her animal while saving the world. She balances old-fashioned door-knocking gumshoeing with DNA swabs and paid databases. She's also a person who listens to the voices of the elderly, the mentally ill and the often ignored. There's no sign that she'll run out of work any time soon.
Anything is PossibleElizabeth Strout
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelNeither novel nor linked story collection strikes me as adequate terms to describe this book's ingenious structure, in which characters reappear in each other's stories. In a few cases, we experience remarkable encounters from different points of view in different stories ... Strout's sentence style fits these Midwestern folks and tales: straightforward while also seeming effortlessly lyrical, seeded both with humor and bitterness like many of our days.
Lincoln in the BardoGeorge Saunders
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal Sentinel...a brilliant, empathetic and wonderfully weird novel, both emotionally and technically stirring ... In between bardo scenes, Saunders intersperses short quotes from memoirs and contemporary accounts of Willie's death, President Lincoln's grief, and how both were viewed by their contemporaries (often harshly). These provide enriching detail and context, but also reinforce the novel's theme of faulty perception: President Lincoln's contemporaries can't even agree on what color his eyes were.
Lonesome Lies Before UsDon Lee
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal-SentinelLee's novel shares some of the character of alt-country music, low-key and trafficking in folks who will never be gold-card members. Deftly, he finds gentle comedy in the town's tiny Unitarian Universalist congregation while also respecting the impulses that brought them together ... While the modest Park would blush if he heard me say this, Lonesome Lies Before Us is also a novel about art, and about what Samuel Beckett called the 'itch to make' even when all of the possible rewards of making have been stripped away.
Lord of MisruleJaimy Gordon
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelBoth richly literary and red-blooded in its depictions of the sporting life, Lord of Misrule gives readers several compelling races, including a completely unexpected but fitting finale. A reader doesn't have to be a horse player to enjoy the novel, but a horse player who can handle Gordon's technique just might … Gordon, whose earlier fiction leans poetic and experimental, brings a passion for word choice and point-of-view shifting to the dark corners of the stables. Beyond the brilliant character monikers, she's pretty good at resonant horse names, too: Little Spinoza, Pelter and the titular Lord of Misrule."4
You Don't Have To Say You Love MeSherman Alexie
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelHis new memoir mixes short prose chapters with related poems. In both modes, he's compulsively readable, a literary writer with the guts of a stand-up comedian ... In piecing together his mother's history from the stories she told him and his siblings (and more than once he refers to her as a liar), Alexie concludes that both she and another family member were children of rape, leading to some of his soberest, open-ended reflections on how mothers would feel about children born from those incidents.
Life after LifeKate Atkinson
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelIn Life After Life, Ursula keeps re-spawning after each death, eventually gaining some ability to return to life at a key checkpoint and make a different choice ... Her lives through the interwar years and the Blitz of London demonstrate how narrow women's roles and options could be then, but smart, pretty and determined, she makes her way ...Atkinson writes that it is about 'not just the reality of being English but also what we are in our own imagination' ... Playfully, she also threads the novel with grace notes about choices and time, such as allowing Ursula to buy the yellow party dress in one life that she denied herself in an earlier one.
The Art of Death: Writing the Final StoryEdwidge Danticat
RaveThe Milwaukee Journal Sentinel... the way she engages her subject makes this a book almost everyone can appreciate ... A strength of Danticat's book is the way she moves back and forth between her life and literary texts, using one to understand the other and vice versa ... In The Art of Death, Danticat writes clearly and judiciously about a subject that is challenging for both writers and people to face directly. Her range and grasp of literary references is wide and powerful; she certainly turned me on to books I didn't know before, such as Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing. The final prayer she wrote in Manman's voice may bring both tears and laughter to anyone who has lost a mother.
The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales of Life on the RoadFinn Murphy
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelThe Long Haul can be read and enjoyed as an adventure story and as a peek into an occupation whose practitioners we see rolling down the highway ... Murphy is a pointed social critic. Bedbugging (trucker slang for movers) gives him a diagonal view of American life. Murphy scoffs at misty notions of truckers as 18-wheel cowboys.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) BodyRoxane Gay
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelHunger is also a brave book because it fits no preconceived template. 'This is not a weight-loss memoir,' she writes early on. The arc of Gay's story is toward greater physical and emotional health, but it is a slow one, not the crisis-and-conversion tale of a stereotypical recovery memoir ... it succeeds in illuminating the painful Cartesian predicament of the very overweight person: Am I this body, or am I separate from it? Do I have to love this body that causes me pain today before it can change to a body I love more?
A God in RuinsKate Atkinson
PositiveThe Milwaukee Journal SentinelKate Atkinson's novel A God in Ruins imagines the long life that Teddy lives after the war, into his 90s, with both the heartaches and the changes those decades bring. American readers will naturally think of Teddy as one of the Greatest Generation, those World War II vets who fought heroically and never wanted to talk about their service … While Atkinson granted Ursula 17 or more lives in the temporally tricky Life After Life, she limits Teddy to a single long one in A God in Ruins, though she moves deftly back and forth through his life span. In compelling scenes, she captures the routine and the tedium of a bomber pilot's life, punctuated by random moments of airborne terror.