RaveThe New York TimesWhat makes the book so good is Ms. Levy’s great imagination, the poetry of her language, her way of finding the wonder in the everyday, of saying a lot with a little, of moving gracefully among pathos, danger and humor and of providing a character as interesting and surprising as Sofia. It’s a pleasure to be inside Sofia’s insightful, questioning mind.
Grief CottageGail Godwin
RaveThe New York Times Book Review[Godwin] remains a forensically skillful examiner of her characters’ motives, thoughts and behavior. Grief Cottage revisits some of her favorite themes — fractured families, parentless children, the initial shock and long-term repercussions of death and disappearance, how the future can run off course in a flash — to make the very good point that it doesn’t require a ghost to haunt a life ... It’s much to Godwin’s credit that she finds a way to weave all these strands together ... Grief Cottage is in some ways about the search for meaning in the narratives of our lives — the stories we tell others, and especially the stories we tell ourselves.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...[a] beautiful, subtle work ... Smith teases out big ideas so slyly and lightly that you can miss how artfully she goes about it ... Smith’s writing is fearless and nonlinear, exploring the connectivity of things: between the living and the dead, the past and the present, art and life. She conveys time almost as if it is happening all at once, like Picasso trying to record an image from every angle simultaneously. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp all the nuance, to corral all the unruly strands into a coherence, especially in Smith’s most Woolfian stream-of-consciousness moments ... The best parts of Autumn, the most moving parts, the transcendent parts, come during Elisabeth and Daniel’s conversations about words, art, life, books, the imagination, how to observe, how to be. Theirs is a conversation that begins mid-paragraph and never ends.
The SympathizerViet Thanh Nguyen
RaveThe New York TimesThe great achievement of The Sympathizer is that it gives the Vietnamese a voice and demands that we pay attention ... There are so many passages to admire. Mr. Nguyen is a master of the telling ironic phrase and the biting detail, and the book pulses with Catch-22-style absurdities.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewNo one writes with Austen’s particular sensibility, and no one would really want to; she was perfectly of her time. But Sittenfeld is the ideal modern-day reinterpreter. Her special skill lies not just in her clear, clean writing, but in her general amusement about the world, her arch, pithy, dropped-mike observations about behavior, character and motivation. She can spot hypocrisy, cant, self-contradiction and absurdity 10 miles away. She’s the one you want to leave the party with, so she can explain what really happened.
Thirteen Ways of LookingColum McCann
PositiveThe New York TimesIn lesser hands, this story could be tedious and self-absorbed: Who wants to read a writer’s writings about writer’s block? But Mr. McCann uses it to show how in fiction, as in life, the possibilities are endless, questions leading to more questions, one thought bleeding into another.
The WonderEmma Donoghue
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review[Donoghue] has taken the bare bones of an idea and turned into a full-fledged story about, among other things, the thawing of a woman’s frozen heart. She’s done it in clear, precise cool prose, so we can follow the shifts in Lib’s logic and feeling ... Like Ms. Donoghue’s best-selling Room, the novel ultimately concerns itself with courage, love and the lengths someone will go to protect a child...The feeling is heartbreaking and transcendent and almost religious in itself.
RaveThe New York TimesThe novel is called Class, but it’s just as preoccupied with race, and Ms. Rosenfeld deserves a great deal of credit for taking on this minefield of a subject ... In a series of skillfully executed set pieces, Rosenfeld skewers the pretensions and preoccupations of women for whom 'parent' is both verb and competitive sport ... It’s easy to make fun of the artisanal-loving hipster bohos of Brooklyn, and many have done it before. Luckily, Ms. Rosenfeld is an astute anthropologist whose satire reaches fresh levels of absurdity ... Ms. Rosenfeld does not mean for us to like Karen all the time, and indeed, the character describes herself as a 'neurotic elitist.' But as we ponder the bigger questions the book poses about race and class in America, subjects bravely tackled by the author through this flawed character, it can be exhausting to be always inside Karen’s brain, with its ricocheting emotions and kamikaze self-analysis.
The Most Dangerous Place on EarthLindsey Lee Johnson
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...[an] alarming, compelling and coolly funny debut ... Ms. Johnson’s characters are unpredictable, contradictory and many things at once, which make them particularly satisfying ... For its compassion, its ability to see the humanity inside even the most apparently hopeless person and the shimmering intelligence of its prose, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth reminded me a bit of Rick Moody’s great 1994 novel, The Ice Storm. You end up sympathizing with and aching for even characters who appear to be irredeemable.
Beauty Is a WoundEka Kurniawan
MixedThe New York TimesIt’s all very skillfully done, but it can be a bit overwhelming, as when you take both the cake and the pie at the buffet, or when you go somewhere — the rain forest, the Louvre — where too much is going on at once.
Modern RomanceAziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg
PositiveThe New York Times[Modern Romance] a sprightly, easygoing hybrid of fact, observation, advice and comedy, with Mr. Klinenberg, presumably, supplying the medicine — graphs, charts, statistics and the like — and Mr. Ansari dispensing the spoonfuls of sugar that help it go down ... I could have done without some of the statistics and studies, frankly, but they were broken into digestible chunks and so slid by easily. The best part of Modern Romance comes when Mr. Ansari and his team get people to share the most embarrassing aspects of their romantic quests.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...to his surprise (and ours) he pulls himself together and delivers a thorough and sophisticated effort to answer an interesting question: How did an indifferently raised, self-flagellating kid from a just-making-ends-meet, desultorily functioning Long Island family, in Massapequa, turn into Alec Baldwin, gifted actor, familiar public figure, impressively thoughtful person, notorious pugilist? ... The passages about his childhood are beautifully written and unexpectedly moving ... He says that he had no ghostwriter or collaborator for this book. That is impressive, because he’s a highly literate and fluent writer, but it also means that his authorial discipline can abandon him. He has a bit of trouble with transitions.
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage
PositiveThe New York TimesLa Belle Sauvage sometimes lags. Curiously for such a gifted storyteller, Pullman includes long stretches of flat dialogue in which Malcolm essentially repeats information he has already heard to new people who have not yet heard it. There’s a bit more detail than is necessary about how hard it is to change and feed a baby while escaping a flood in a boat ... I recognize that my expectations are impossibly high and that, in literature as well as in romance, you cannot return to the exact feeling you had before. I’d like to think that Pullman is biding his time, laying down the groundwork for what is yet to come. And even with its longueurs, the book is full of wonder. By the end, when Malcolm and a young woman named Alice embark with Lyra on a perilous watery odyssey replete with strange undersea creatures and various other things not dreamed of in our philosophy, it becomes truly thrilling. It’s a stunning achievement, the universe Pullman has created and continues to build on. All that remains is to sit tight and wait for the next installment.