Michael SchaubMichael Schaub is a writer and book critic. He is a staff writer at The Millions and the co-host of The Book Report talk show. His work has appeared in NPR Books, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Portland Mercury and The Austin Chronicle, among other publications. A native of Texas, he now lives in Portland, Oregon. He can be found on Twitter @michaelschaub
The FortunesPeter Ho Davies
RaveNPR...a beautifully constructed novel ... Davies does a masterful job tying the strands together in the novel's final section ... The Fortunes is a stunning look at what it means to be Chinese, what it means to be American, and what it means to be a person navigating the strands of identity, the things that made us who we are, whoever that is.
As Good as GoneLarry Watson
MixedNPRIn As Good as Gone, Watson doesn't stray too far — geographically or thematically — from the territory he explored in his acclaimed 1993 novella Montana 1948. That's not necessarily a bad thing; at his best, Watson evokes Big Sky Country as well as Montana writing legends like Ivan Doig, Jim Harrison and Norman Maclean. And like those authors, Watson is a naturally gifted storyteller, plainspoken and unpretentious. In the context of a Western novel, it's a great voice, evocative of the West, and it works best when Watson is writing about Calvin ... Watson has his finger on the pulse of a certain archetype: the quiet, tough cowboy who you don't want to tick off. And that's Calvin. Notwithstanding his quirks he's not much different from any other character of his brand. That's not necessarily a fatal flaw, but none of the other characters in Watson's novel manage to distinguish themselves either. Bill is kind, well-intentioned but feckless, his wife, Marjorie is a cipher. Ann seems to be there mostly for a damsel-in-distress set piece ... That's not to say there isn't anything to enjoy here. Watson is excellent at building suspense, and As Good as Gone is frequently exciting in a cinematic sense. And even though the novel isn't perfect, Watson is a generous writer, and his love of the West and the people who live there shines through.
Girls On FireRobin Wasserman
RaveNPRIt wouldn't be fair to reveal too much of the plot of Girls on Fire. The first adult novel (and with its scenes of sex and violence, it's very, very adult) from young adult author Wasserman, much of its power depends on the suspense that she carefully constructs. That's not to say this is a run-of-the-mill thriller; it's a perfectly constructed literary novel, but one that dares its readers to put it down. And it's nearly impossible to put down. Much of that is because Wasserman's characters are so flawlessly realized — Hannah is an appealing everygirl, Lacey is compelling and terrifying, and Nikki is surprisingly complex, a sadistic manipulator who may or may not actually have a good heart ... Wasserman's novel turns the Satanic panic of the Reagan-Bush years on its head, and the result is a novel that's terrifying, upsetting and hypnotically beautiful. There's not a false step in it, and you never want it to end, although you know it has to. Girls on Fire is an inferno — it's brutally gorgeous, and you know it could explode anytime, but you can't turn away, even for a second.
The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead
RaveNPRIn The Underground Railroad, Whitehead has created a portrayal of pre-Civil War America that doesn't shy away from the inhumanity that wounded this country, nearly mortally, wounds that still haven't healed. Whitehead proves once again that he's a master of language — there are no wasted words in the book, and it's apparent that each sentence was crafted with exacting care ... The Underground Railroad is an American masterpiece, as much a searing document of a cruel history as a uniquely brilliant work of fiction.
Target in the NightRicardo Piglia, trans. Sergio Weisman
RaveNPRIt would be a mistake...to call Ricardo Piglia's Target in the Night just a detective novel, although a murder mystery is at its heart. The Argentine author's book, released in Spanish five years ago and newly translated by Sergio Waisman, is much more than that. It's Piglia's postmodern, brainy and sometimes funny take on the detective thriller, and it's an absolute joy to read.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesYou could call the novel meandering, and it is, but in the best possible way ... Hicks does a near-perfect job tracing each character's evolving needs, desires and resentments over the course of seven years ... The themes in Amateurs — friendship, love, envy — could potentially make for a maudlin novel. But Hicks, while undoubtedly a compassionate author, is never sentimental. He writes with a similar measured earnestness that calls to mind the best of Ann Beattie and Anne Tyler.
The Mirror ThiefMartin Seay
RaveNPRThe Mirror Thief is as difficult to explain as it is completely original. It's one of the most intricately plotted novels in recent years, and to call it imaginative seems like a massive understatement. The three stories are as different from each other as can be, and the fact that Seay weaves them together so skillfully is almost miraculous ... There's no doubt that Seay swings for the fences with his novel, and the scope of his ambition is endlessly impressive. The Mirror Thief is a startling, beautiful gem of a book that at times approaches a masterpiece.
Fortune SmilesAdam Johnson
PositiveNPRThis new collection, while not flawless, showcases Johnson's immense creativity and intelligence, and his admirers will find a lot to love in most of these six stories ... Johnson is tremendously talented, and even though not all of the stories cohere, they still manage to enlighten. The best stories in the collection are nothing less than brilliant, even if the worlds he creates aren't necessarily ones we want to live in.
Gold Fame CitrusClaire Vaye Watkins
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWatkins' vision is profoundly terrifying. It's a novel that's effective precisely because it's so realistic — while Watkins' image of the future is undeniably dire, there's nothing about it that sounds implausible ... The prose in Gold Fame Citrus is stunningly beautiful, even when — especially when — Watkins is describing the badlands that Southern California has become ... It's an urgent, frequently merciless book, as unrelenting as it is brilliant. Watkins forces us to confront things we'd probably rather ignore, but because we're human, we can't.
In the CountryMia Alvar
RaveNPR[Alvar's] book, as Walt Whitman might say, contains multitudes — not just because of its varied settings, from the Philippines to the U.S. to Bahrain, but because every character is different, and portrayed with love and a rare kind of understanding ... Alvar finds beauty in the unlikeliest of places, and that's what makes In the Country such an inspired, remarkable book. Her characters, even the lucky ones, are never far from affliction, and never really close to home, even when they've lived in the same place their whole lives. Alvar finds triumph in the torment and deliverance in the agony.
One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in NorwayAsne Seierstad
RaveNPRSeierstad does an incredible job telling the whole story of the massacre and its aftermath, the deeply flawed response by law enforcement and the families who lost children. Her writing, translated into English by Sarah Death, is both straightforward and compassionate. She doesn't spare the reader's feelings; it's a deeply painful book to experience ... One of Us is a masterpiece of journalism, a deeply painful chronicle of an inexplicable and horrifying attack that we'll likely never understand.
What is Not Yours is Not YoursHelen Oyeyemi
RaveNPRThe book contains the same sly humor, gorgeous writing and magical characters as her previous efforts. It is, in a word, flawless.
RaveNPRIt's difficult to write with emotional honesty about the people on the very edge of society, the misfits among misfits. But even when he writes with humor, Jodzio never treats his characters as a joke. He's a compassionate writer who is refreshingly unafraid to take risks, and his book is, well, a knockout.
BlackassA. Igoni Barrett
PanNPR...Blackass, though very good in parts, doesn't really work as a novel. Barrett definitely has great ideas and original observations, but it seems like he's tried too hard to force them all into one book. The result is a novel that's not unenjoyable, but one that never really comes together.
Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a FistSunil Yapa
PanNPRYou have to give Yapa credit for his ambition, and it's obvious that he's a writer of great compassion. The concept behind Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is a good one, but the execution is, at best, amateurish.
Hotels of North AmericaRick Moody
PanThe Los Angeles TimesHotels of North America feels like a novel hung on a gimmick that can't sustain it, a novel unsure of what it wants to be. It's not quite entertaining enough to work as a comedy, and it's too slight to be wholly profound.
A Hundred Thousand WorldsBob Proehl
MixedNPRA Hundred Thousand Worlds is a charming, sprawling novel by an author whose ambition, while laudable, sometimes gets the best of him ... Proehl's best accomplishment in the book is the very realistic, and very sweet, relationship between Valerie and Alex ... But the novel is, unfortunately, way too busy, and the other characters aren't as well-realized as Valerie and Alex ... messy at times, but it's not without its charms.
The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the InternetJustin Peters
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesWhile Peters' history of copyright law is endlessly interesting — he's fluent in both English and lawyer-speak, and he does a great job explaining sometimes arcane legislation — it's his portrait of Swartz that makes The Idealist such a riveting book.
This is Your Life Harriet Chance!Jonathan Evison
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe one constant in This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is Evison’s brutal honesty. It’s an unrelentingly dark book, belied by its whimsical cover, all pastel blue-greens and bright yellow, and by the excitable exclamation point tacked on the end of the title.
Only the AnimalsCeridwen Dovey
PanNPROnly the Animals is a high-concept collection that only a very small number of authors could possibly pull off. Dovey is not one of them.
All the HousesKaren Olsson
RaveNPRIt's a funny, sweet and beautifully written novel about a young woman trying to make sense of both her family and her nation's history, which have become more intertwined for her than most people would be able to understand. Olsson makes a wonderful case for dealing with the past and trying to move on, even when it's painful.
Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old AuthorHerman Wouk
PositiveNPR...light on details, but heavy on thought and charm, and it's a fitting final work for an author with a long and remarkable career...a lovely coda to the career of a man who made American literature a kinder, smarter, better place.
Unfaithful Music and Disappearing InkElvis Costello
RaveNPRIn short, writers like Costello because he has always taken writing seriously. That's obvious to anyone who pays attention to his lyrics, and it's even more apparent to anyone who reads Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, his charming new autobiography. The book is refreshingly free of salacious gossip and needless name-dropping; it's an intelligent self-assessment from a musician who went from angry young man to elder statesman of pop.
Hunger Makes Me A Modern GirlCarrie Brownstein
RaveNPRBrownstein's music has always helped people feel like they really do belong somewhere, and her wonderful memoir does the same thing.
The WonderEmma Donoghue
PanNPR... suspense novel that lacks much in the way of suspense, a psychological thriller that's more laughable than scary ... The reader knows that Lib is skeptical because Donoghue hammers the point home with a heroic lack of subtlety ... The Wonder is as phoned-in as a novel could be. Her writing is flat and repetitive, and the plot, such as it is, is maddening. Fans of Room might find something to be interested in here, but for everybody else, it's just another entry in the ever-growing catalog of mediocre suspense novels about children in pain.
Today Will be DifferentMaria Semple
RaveNPR...takes place in less than 24 hours, but packs in more twists, jokes and genuinely moving dialogue than anyone has the right to expect ... Semple crafts her twists and turns beautifully; they're always surprising and never less than hilarious ... Semple navigates the strait between funny and tragic with incredible grace ... Today Will Be Different is hilarious, moving and written perfectly, and it makes a good case for Semple as one of America's best living comic novelists.
Razor GirlCarl Hiaasen
RaveNPR...at turns gleefully obscene, shockingly violent and riotously funny. In other words, it's Carl Hiaasen doing what he does best ... In the hands of another author, Razor Girl could have turned out shambolic and confused. But Hiaasen is a gifted storyteller who knows that the key to keeping readers engaged is a mixture of suspense and humor.
The Angel of HistoryRabih Alameddine
RaveNPRAlameddine is a writer with a boundless imagination, and his latest book feels almost completely unrestrained. In the hands of a less gifted author, that could be a problem. But Alameddine's writing is so beautiful, so exuberant, that the reader is willing to go along with the ride, no matter how wild it is. And it does get wild — some passages approach stream-of-consciousness, but there's nothing in the novel that's remotely self-indulgent ... The Angel of History isn't just a brilliant novel, it's a heartfelt cry in the dark, a reminder that we can never forget our past, the friends and family we've loved and lost.
The Dark Flood RisesMargaret Drabble
RaveNPRShe's an unforgettable character, steely but likable, and The Dark Flood Rises is a beautiful rumination on what it means to grow old ... The Dark Flood Rises jumps from character to character, from England to the Canaries, but the transitions are never sudden or jarring. It's a narrative style that reflects Fran herself ... while the subject matter of the book is inescapably, well, dark, Drabble lightens the mood with some genuinely clever humor ... It's a truly lovely novel, and when Fran reaches an emotional breaking point it's hard not to cry with her, for her. This isn't a sentimental book, but it's a deeply emotional one. Drabble doesn't ask the reader to feel sorry for Fran; instead, she invites us to live in her world, to consider how sad, how funny, how genuinely absurd aging is.
History of WolvesEmily Fridlund
RaveNPR...[an] electrifying debut ... Fridlund refuses to obey the conventions that her sometimes hidebound colleagues do, and her novel is so much the better for it ... History of Wolves isn't a typical thriller any more than it's a typical coming-of-age novel; Fridlund does a remarkable job transcending genres without sacrificing the suspense that builds steadily in the book ... History of Wolves is as beautiful and as icy as the Minnesota woods where it's set, and with her first book, Fridlund has already proven herself to be a singular talent.
The Visiting PrivilegeJoy Williams
RaveNPRIt's the rare collection that doesn't have a single story, even a single paragraph, that's less than brilliant, and it proves that Williams is quite possibly America's best living writer of short stories.
4 3 2 1Paul Auster
RaveNPRAuster's novel is never boring, but it can get confusing, especially at the beginning of the book — readers will likely find themselves flipping back ... Auster wisely chooses not to make Ferguson a Forrest Gump-type character, implausibly present for every significant historical moment. He also gives each iteration a subtle self-awareness about their parallel existences ... There aren't many authors who could pull an 880-page novel like this off, and it's a little surprising that Auster manages to do it so well. That's not because he's not a great writer, but he's never been known for his loquacity or long, flowing sentences before. But he's a gifted observer, and his writing is so energetic, he makes it work ... Occasionally, Auster goes on a little too long — the novel is perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be...Nonetheless, it's a stunningly ambitious novel, and a pleasure to read. Auster's writing is joyful, even in the book's darkest moments, and never ponderous or showy ... Auster proves himself a master of navigating these worlds, and even though all might not happen for the best in any of them, it's an incredibly moving, true journey.
The Vine That Ate the SouthJ.D. Wilkes
RaveNPRHe takes obvious enjoyment in sharing the culture of his home state; his excitement about each folk tale, each bit of history, shines through the narrative. And it's contagious: It's hard not to get swept up by his enthusiastic prose, his ebullient descriptions of the places and people in the Bluegrass State. It's a relentlessly fun novel, the literary equivalent of a country-punk album that grabs you and refuses to let go. Wilkes has a perfect ear for the dialect of Kentucky, and his writing is so bright, you can almost see every abandoned shack, every kudzu-covered tree. Sure, it's bizarre, and at points almost gleefully obscene, but it's undeniably one of the smartest, most original Southern Gothic novels to come along in years.
Behold the DreamersImbolo Mbue
RaveNPRHer book isn't the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, but it's surely one of the best ... Behold the Dreamers is, at times, hard to read — not because of her writing, which is excellent, but because the characters keep getting hit, over and over again, by horrible circumstances beyond their control ... a remarkable debut.
A Horse Walks into a BarDavid Grossman
RaveNPRGrossman takes a lot of risks with A Horse Walks into a Bar, and every one of them pays off spectacularly well. Writing about a stand-up comedy set isn't easy; comic performances — even the bad ones — have a distinctive rhythm that can be difficult to recreate. But Grossman and translator Jessica Cohen do a wonderful job with Greenstein's long, sometimes borderline incoherent rants. It's also hard to pull off a novel set in the space of two hours, but Grossman's timing is perfect; the story feels urgent, and the reader can almost imagine being trapped in the comedy club with the increasingly confused audience ... A Horse Walks into a Bar is a novel as beautiful as it is unusual, and it's nearly impossible to put down. In the end, it's not as much about comedy as it is about witness: Greenstein needs someone to validate his pain, to let him know that he really has survived a life that's kicked him time and time again. As Lazar reflects toward the end of the novel, 'I believe he is reminding me of his request: that thing that comes out of a person without his control. That's what he wanted me to tell him. It cannot be put into words, I realize, and that must be the point of it.' It's hard to put any kind of pain into words, but Grossman does it absolutely perfectly.
Here Comes the SunNicole Dennis-Benn
RaveNPR...there's no character in Dennis-Benn's novel that's anything less than complex, multifaceted, and breathtakingly real. That's part of what makes Here Comes the Sun one of the most stunningly beautiful novels in recent years ... Dennis-Benn's writing is so assured, so gorgeous, that it's hard to believe Here Comes the Sun is a debut novel. There are no wasted words; every sentence is constructed with care and a clear eye ... tough, beautiful and necessary, and it feels like a miracle.
Universal HarvesterJohn Darnielle
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...[a] brilliant second novel ... What appears to be a chilling horror tale is also a perfectly rendered story about family and loss ... The two threads of the story come together in a truly scary climax, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil any of it. Darnielle is a master at building suspense, and his writing is propulsive and urgent; it’s nearly impossible to stop reading. He’s also incredibly gifted at depicting the dark side of the rural Midwest ... Suspense and ambience count for only so much, though; a horror novel (or any kind of novel) works only with believable characters. And every one in Universal Harvester is realistic, especially Jeremy, who finds himself torn between staying at the video store and leaving it behind for more lucrative work ... So while it’s genuinely unsettling, it’s also a heartfelt reflection on family, as well as a kind of love letter to the often overlooked towns of the American Midwest ... Darnielle’s novel is beyond worthwhile; it’s a major work by an author who is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in American fiction.
My Cat YugoslaviaPajtim Statovci, Trans. by David Hackston
PanNPRMy Cat Yugoslavia was published in its original Finnish in 2014, when Statovci was in his early twenties, and his age shows here. It's a brash and ambitious novel, but too often Statovci lets his ideas get the better of him — he definitely has something to say about abuse, prejudice and family dynamics, but it's lost in the sheer absurdity of the story. The book reads like two novels shoehorned into one, and neither one is fully realized ... That's not to say that Statovci is an untalented writer. He's clearly capable of constructing strong sentences, and it's undeniable that his imagination is boundless. It wouldn't be surprising if his next book succeeds where this one fails. But My Cat Yugoslavia, though clever in parts, is, unfortunately, too unpolished and immature to be considered anything more than a valiant attempt.
White TearsHari Kunzru
RaveNPR...[a] stunning, audacious new thriller...an urgent novel that's as challenging as it is terrifying ... White Tears is part thriller, part literary horror novel, and completely impossible to put down. It's a tight book: Kunzru keeps building suspense until the very last page, and he offers the reader no breaks from the terror. His writing is propulsive, clear and bright, whether he's describing an old blues song or a shocking act of violence. And while it's a timely novel about a topic that's frequently discussed in America, Kunzru is never pedantic or preachy. A plot like the one in White Tears could easily lead to a heavy-handed lecture disguised as a work of fiction, but Kunzru lets the story go where it needs to; he doesn't polemicize because he doesn't need to.
Exit WestMohsin Hamid
RaveNPR...at once a love story, a fable, and a chilling reflection on what it means to be displaced, unable to return home and unwelcome anywhere else ... Hamid does an excellent job portraying the relationship between Saeed and Nadia...And he captures the feeling of being displaced beautifully — this is the best writing of Hamid's career. The novel is poetic, full of long, flowing sentences ... There's not a wasted word in Exit West; every one is considered carefully. This makes every sentence hit hard — the writing makes it hard to put down, but readers will find themselves going back and savoring each paragraph several times before moving on. He's that good. It's a breathtaking novel by one of the world's most fascinating young writers, and it arrives at an urgent time. Hamid encourages to us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, even when they've lived lives much harder than anything we've endured.
The RefugeesViet Thanh Nguyen
RaveNPR...a beautiful collection that deftly illustrates the experiences of the kinds of people our country has, until recently, welcomed with open arms ... Remembrance is a common theme in Nguyen's stories, particularly the kind of unwelcome memories that haunt the pasts of those who have endured trauma ... Every story in The Refugees succeeds on its own terms, but the most affecting one, perhaps, is 'The Other Man,' about an 18-year-old man named Liem who seeks refuge in America in 1975, after the fall of Saigon ... an urgent, wonderful collection that proves that fiction can be more than mere storytelling — it can bear witness to the lives of people who we can't afford to forget.
What It Means When a Man Falls From the SkyLesley Nneka Arimah
RaveNPR...[a] remarkable debut collection ... Of all of Arimah's considerable skills, this might be her greatest: She crafts stories that reward rereading, not because they're unclear or confusing, but because it's so tempting to revisit each exquisite sentence, each uniquely beautiful description ... Arimah's collection somehow manages to be both cohesive and varied at the same time. None of the stories resemble one another, exactly, but they manage to form a book united not only by theme and by setting (the stories mostly take place in Nigeria and the U.S.), but by Arimah's electrifying, defiantly original writing. It's a truly wonderful debut by a young author who seems certain to have a very bright literary future ahead of her.
The Girl on the TrainPaula Hawkins
RaveNPRWhen Megan goes missing, Rachel's world, already profoundly messy, shifts even farther off-center...Rachel finds herself unable to stay away, and winds up directly in the middle of the investigation, all while trying to deal with her growing addiction to alcohol and her frequent memory lapses … The novel is perfectly paced, from its arresting beginning to its twist ending; it's not an easy book to put down … What really makes The Girl on the Train such a gripping novel is Hawkins' remarkable understanding of the limits of human knowledge, and the degree to which memory and imagination can become confused.
RaveNPR...a creepy but beautiful debut book from an exceptionally talented young English author ... Johnson prefers to lead with the ominous and make it even darker. Not many writers can pull that off. She can. In some ways, Fen reads like a pastoral answer to the fiction of Angela Carter That's not to say it's derivative; it's not at all. But Johnson shares Carter's affinity for twisted stories that examine sexuality from the viewpoint of female desire, dispensing with the idea that the male gaze is the last word on anything sexual ... It's difficult to explain Fen; it reads like a book that doesn't want to be explained, only experienced. And thanks to Johnson's accomplished writing, dazzling imagination and unique point of view, it's one hell of an experience. Fen is a haunting book about a haunted place, and it's more than worth it to take the trip.
The SonPhilipp Meyer
PositiveNPRPhilipp Meyer's The Son isn't just one of the most exciting Texas novels in years, it's one of the most solid, unsparing pieces of American historical fiction to come out this century … The novel's structure — with chapters switching back and forth from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s and the 20th century — is unusual, but it's never confusing or jarring. And while a few of the plots take a while to develop, they come together in surprising and rewarding ways by the book's end.
The SelloutPaul Beatty
RaveNPRThe Sellout isn't just one of the most hilarious American novels in years, it also might be the first truly great satirical novel of the century ... while there is plenty of real sadness in The Sellout, it's tempered by Beatty's outrageously hilarious mockery of politics, entertainment, and pretty much everything else. It's a risky book unconcerned about offending readers, which is a rare thing indeed in today's easily outraged culture ... The Sellout is a comic masterpiece, but it's much more than just that — it's one of the smartest and most honest reflections on race and identity in America in a very long time.
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand ForDavid McCullough
RaveNPRIt's a slim volume, and yes, it's illustrated, but it's full of knowledge, wit and optimism, and McCullough's characteristic erudition shines through on every page ... It's a wide-ranging collection, but it's not just a series of history lessons. McCullough teaches us about history, but also how to think about it, and why it matters ... His faith in the country is touching, and this book is a gift.
Tenth of DecemberGeorge Saunders
RaveNPRHis defiant quirkiness is tempered with a dark sobriety and a sense that the world we live in is often more surreal and savage than any satire could be. Tenth of December isn't just the author's most unexpected work yet; it's also his best … The standout of Tenth of December, though, is ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries,’ a story that's remarkable for its originality and unrelenting sadness...It's possibly Saunders' strangest short story to date, but it's also one of his most realistic, and that's what makes it so horrifying … Saunders is one of America's best writers of fiction, and that his stories are as weird, scary and devastating as America itself.
Ready Player OneErnest Cline
RaveNPRIf you grew up in the 1980s and resided anywhere on the nerd-geek spectrum, all it takes is the right Rush or Genesis song to bring you back to the video arcade...Those arcade games, and those fond memories, are the subject of Ernest Cline's unapologetically nerdy debut novel … Ready Player One is ridiculously fun and large-hearted, and you don't have to remember the Reagan administration to love it … I never thought I could be on the edge of my seat while reading about a session of the arcade game Joust, but the author's energetic, deeply felt narrative makes it almost impossible to stop turning the pages. Cline is that rare writer who can translate his own dorky enthusiasms into prose that's both hilarious and compassionate.
RaveNPR... [a] breathtaking new novel, Isadora. It's a stunning meditation on art and grief by one of America's most exciting young writers ... The novel concludes with an ending so mind-bogglingly sad, it would have seemed unnecessary and unreal if it hadn't actually happened. But Gray handles it beautifully — she doesn't insulate her readers from the cruelties of grief, but she's never exploitative and she never uses cheap pathos ... Gray is a gutsy, utterly original writer, and this is the finest work she's done so far. Isadora is a masterful portrait of one of America's greatest artists, and it's also a beautiful reflection on what it means to be suffocated by grief, but not quite willing to give up.
Homesick For Another WorldOttessa Moshfegh
RaveNPR...[a] stunning short story collection ... Many authors like their characters to play coy, to circumlocute their way around their motives and desires. Moshfegh doesn't like to play this game. Her characters are largely blunt and unfiltered; you don't have to guess what they're really thinking ... There's not a story in Homesick for Another World that's anything less than original and perfectly constructed. Moshfegh's talent is unique, and her characters — unfiltered, cold, frequently pathetic — are all the more memorable for their faults and obliviousness.
Stephen FloridaGabe Habash
RaveNPR...[a] powerhouse debut ... one of the most unforgettable characters in recent American fiction ... It's hard to pull off a novel with an unreliable narrator, and they don't come much more unreliable than Stephen. But Habash manages to make his protagonist both charismatic and repelling, frequently on the same page, and the result is one of the most fascinating characters to come along in quite a while ... In the end, it's difficult not to root for Stephen, despite his impulsiveness and stubborn single-mindedness. And it's almost impossible not to admire Habash's starkly beautiful and moving novel. Stephen Florida is brash and audacious; it's not just one of the best novels of the year, it's one of the best sports books to come along in quite a while.
The Sarah BookScott McClanahan
RaveNPRIf there's any justice in the literary world — and occasionally there is — McClanahan will get the widespread recognition he's long deserved with The Sarah Book, his tragic and beautiful second novel. It's an unsparing primal scream of a book, and it convincingly makes the case that McClanahan is one of the best American writers of his generation ... loss is the main theme of the novel, and McClanahan explores the topic with an honesty so raw, it's likely to bring tears to your eyes more than once ... The Sarah Book is slim, and there are no wasted words in it. He's a musical writer, and the novel is full of passages that beg to be reread over and over again ... brave, triumphant and beautiful — it reads like a fever dream, and it feels like a miracle.
So Much BluePercival Everett
RaveNPRBy turns funny, shocking and heartbreaking, it's one of his best books to date. And with a career as distinguished as Everett's, that's saying something ... So Much Blue is essentially three books in one. The sections covering the present day read like a remarkably honest work of domestic fiction, while the chapters set in Paris are more of a haunting love story. The parts of the book set in El Salvador, as the country's long civil war is breaking out, are more like a thriller than anything. The only things the three parts have in common is Kevin, and Everett's masterful writing ... a generous, thrilling book by a man who might well be America's most under-recognized literary master, and readers will be thinking about it long after the last page.
Bring Up the BodiesHilary Mantel
RaveNPRMantel masterfully portrays the childish Henry, mercurial Anne and enigmatic Jane, but the soul of the Wolf Hall books is Cromwell. His titles include ‘Secretary to the King’ and ‘Master of the Rolls,’ but he's essentially a fixer and consigliere for the fickle Henry. Mantel's portrayal is complex, nuanced and wholly original. While Cromwell sometimes comes across as a Tudor-era Tony Soprano, Bring Up the Bodies shows a more unsure side, a middle-aged man coming to terms with his mortality, still mourning the loss of his wife and daughters. The portrait is as delicate and keen as any other in recent historical fiction.
Mrs. FletcherTom Perrotta
RaveNPR...raunchy, hilarious and unexpectedly sweet ... Perrotta is extraordinarily gifted at capturing the relationship between Eve and her son ... Mrs. Fletcher isn't the first book by Perrotta to mix dark humor with serious issues; he's done so before in novels like Election and Little Children. But his latest might just be his best — it's a stunning and audacious book, and Perrotta never lets his characters take the easy way out. Uncompromisingly obscene but somehow still kind-hearted, Mrs. Fletcher is one for the ages.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetDavid Mitchell
RaveNPRMitchell's new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, splits the thematic and stylistic differences between his previous two books, combining Cloud Atlas' fascination with history and the theme of the journey with Black Swan Green's more straightforward narrative structure and understated empathy … Jacob is an unusually compelling character, despite his straight-laced, sometimes humorless attitude. Mitchell allows the reader to experience the clerk's love for his fiancee, his obsession with Orito, and his attempts to reconcile both. It helps that the supporting characters are so well-drawn and fascinating, from the brilliant but hostile Doctor Marinus (Orito's mentor) to the gleefully venal cook Arie Grote, who speaks in an enchanting and hilarious thief’s cant. Mitchell lets his sense of humor shine through, to the greatest effect of his career so far.
Who Is Rich?Matthew Klam
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHis admirers have had to wait since the Clinton administration for his next book, but happily, it’s worth it. Who Is Rich? is funny, maddening and, despite the well-worn subject matter, defiantly original ... As a person, Rich is hard to like; as a narrator, he’s about as reliable as a 1987 Yugo GV with its original transmission. That’s a tough row to hoe for any writer, but Klam manages to make him compelling — he has moments of self-awareness, although he seldom takes them to their logical ends ... It’s a challenging novel, but Klam’s prose is so clean, so self-assured, that it feels a little like a miracle.
Home FireKamila Shamsie
MixedNPR...[an] urgent and explosive new novel ... Home Fire is essentially a retelling of Antigone, which works both for and against the novel. Shamsie moves the setting to the present time ably, and nothing about it seems forced. But it's hard to surprise readers when they know what's going to happen, and the novel hews a little too closely to the Sophocles play. The ending of Shamsie's novel departs from Antigone, thankfully, and it's heartbreaking and beyond explosive. The pacing in Home Fire is near perfect; it's a difficult book to put down, especially once the reader becomes invested in the characters. And thanks to Shamsie's detailed look at the members of the two families, that doesn't take long. The most impressive part of Home Fire, though, is Shamsie's writing, which is beautiful without being florid, and urgent without being rushed.