Archive for the ‘Evening Book Reviews’ Category

Sunday Evening Book Reviews

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Lesley Downer on Amy Tan’s Valley of Amazement: “Written in Tan’s characteristically economical and matter-of-fact style, “The Valley of Amazement” is filled with memorably idiosyncratic characters. And its array of colorful multilayered stories is given further depth by Tan’s affecting depictions of mothers and daughters.” (NYTimes)

Jim Ruland on Amina Cain’s Creature: “The irony is that while Cain’s characters are unique in the way they feel intensely alive, she achieves this by allowing them to succumb to the pleasures of retreating to a place that can be found only inside a work of art.” (LATimes)

Anthony Cummins on Ken Kalfus on Equilateral: “Writing about the past from a modern perspective can yield rich dramatic irony but also a sense of we-know-better smugness. That’s a risk the American writer Ken Kalfus takes in his third novel, a clinical satire set in British-occupied Egypt in the twilight of Victoria’s reign.” (Telegraph)

Jacqueline Rose on Howard Caygill’s On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance: “…philosopher Howard Caygill offers a meditation on the history of resistance as idea and lived experience, a term which, as he states at the outset, is “strangely unanalysed”.” (The Guardian)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Barbara Clark on Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Through the Evil Days: “These complicated storylines come together seamlessly, providing readers with an evening or two of nail-biting tension as the crippling snow and ice bring law enforcement and criminals alike to their knees. Hate to offer up that old chestnut, but this is a book not to be missed.” (BookPage)

Brian Gresko on Ben Tanzer’s Orphans: “As problems go, brevity is a fine one to have. (And this is a short novel, clocking in at 161 pages.) … But with a world as unique as the one Tanzer lays out, I would like to have stayed a bit longer.” (The Rumpus)

Batya Ungar-Sargon on Orly Castel-Bloom’s Textile: “With a cast of characters as self-obsessed and unattached to each other as these are, one would expect to find it difficult to invest in the narrative. How can we be expected to care about people who don’t care about each other? And yet what Castel-Bloom proves is that sympathetic characters are not at all essential to the success of even a character-driven plot.” (Bookslut)

Charles McGrath on Joe Sacco’s The Great War: July 1, 1916: ““The Great War” is essentially a work of historical imagination, but Mr. Sacco said he was determined that it be accurate down to the smallest detail, so he spent a week in the photo archives at the Imperial War Museums in London, nearly wearing out the photocopier there.” (NYTimes)

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Bill Sherman on Mark Russell and (illustrator) Shannon Wheeler’s God Is Disappointed in You: “Though Russell is attempting to retell the Bible in its own terms, there is no way he can avoid dealing with a work as open to so many interpretations without occasionally falling into interpretation yourself.” (Blogcritics)

Kevin Mulligan on A.W. Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics: Making Sense of Things: “Moore’s concentration on the history and philosophy of meta-metaphysics allows him to impose a narrative order on the evolution of metaphysics over four centuries.” (The Times Literary Supplement)

Kenneth Champeon on P.S. Duffy’s The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: “Duffy writes well—if occasionally sentimentally—about war’s privations. Her heroes are not reticent Hemingway types, and her descriptions, especially those of battle, are rich.” (BookPage)

Steven Poole on David Marsh’s For Who the Bell Tolls: One Man’s Quest for Grammatical Perfection: “Despite the deceptive subtitle, much of the rest of the book is not about grammar at all: it dissolves into an entertaining compendium of usage notes and mini-essays. (Lists of common mistakes provide filler, as apparently is inevitable in this kind of book.)” (The Guardian)

Tuesday Evening Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Jane Jakeman on Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites: “Hannah Kent’s prose is extraordinarily terse and precise as she tells the story from several different viewpoints: the older housewife whose health is failing, the priest who has to oppose fellow-clergy in his sympathy for the “murderess”, and that of Agnes herself, whose struggle for survival amid the harshest of landscapes and the cruelty of human beings is described with vivid intensity.” (The Independent)

Elizabeth Hand on Anne Rice’s The Wolves of Midwinter: “As for plot, there is only a series of setpieces and occasional supernatural intrusions, all too neatly resolved.” (Washington Post)

Ilana Teitelbaum on Phyllis Chesler’s An American Bride in Kabul: “With its sharp critique of honor killings, polygamy and purdah, with references to the burka as a “sensory deprivation chamber,” An American Bride in Kabul throws down the gauntlet to Western feminists who refuse to condemn these practices. It is a challenge that is at the very least worth hearing.” (The Globe and Mail)

Nathan Goldman on Hilary Plum’s They Dragged Them Through the Streets: “Plum gracefully commands the novel’s tone: each voice remains distinct in that character’s viewpoint and concerns, but also merges with the others in a pulsing thrum of grief and confusion. The device of naming each character mainly by his or her first initial aids in this gentle convergence of voices.” (Full Stop)

Sunday Evening Book Reviews

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Ana Menéndez on Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles: “The intricate narrative delivers much more than the publisher-promised meditation on “fate” or “identity.” “At Night We Walk in Circles” is a provocative study of the way war culture ensnares both participant and observer, the warping fascination of violence, and the disfiguring consequences of the roles we play in public.” (NYTimes)

Krys Lee on Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement: “This is one writer’s particular idiom and vision of the world – and within that she offers us a rich cast of characters who both repel and compel.” (Financial Times)

Jane Shilling on Carlos Acosta’s Pig’s Foot: “Episodes of savage violence and almost equally savage sex are punctuated with tender depictions of family life.” (Telegraph)

Amanda Petrusich on Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life: ” Hilburn does an artful, enviable job of reconciling all the facets — the man Cash wanted to be (a pious, steadfast, fearless figure) and who he more often was (a loving prankster with a weakness for women and pills).” (LATimes)

Thursday Evening Book Reviews

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Scott Martelle on Richard A. Serrano’s Last of the Blue and Gray: Old Men, Stolen Glory, and the Mystery that Outlived the Civil War: “…a solid work on an intriguing subset of American history: scam artists and those whose insecurities drove them to conjure up military pasts they never had.” (LATimes)

Gaby Hinsliff on (editor) Ruth Winstone’s A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine: The Last Diaries by Tony Benn: “It is hard to read these diaries without feeling enormously nostalgic for a quasi-mythical lost age of public service, a time when politics was about big ideas and the power of intellect rather than petty machinations (not that Benn was above those in his heyday, of course).” (The Guardian)

Dwight Garner on James Wolcott’s Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs: “He can pack his coiled sentences too tightly; it’s as if he perms each one’s hairdo before pushing it out the door. (“Having made his hoofprint in Hollywood as a horrormeister,” commences a sentence about Mr. De Palma.) He goes to the well too often for battle metaphors — every sally is a “bazooka blast” or a “switchblade flick” or a “catapult attack.” It’s as if Mr. Wolcott has been playing too many first-person shooter games on his Xbox.” (NYTimes)

Melissa Maerz on Nora Ephron’s The Most Of Nora Ephron: “Many people already know how Ephron felt about her neck (bad) and what she’d miss when she died (bacon). But while these gems are included here, they’re offset by the ruthless young Ephron, who skewered journalistic ethics at The New York Times and made Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley Brown cry during interviews.” (

Tuesday Evening Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

CR on Max Barry’s Lexicon: “The book was a good read, but it was even better as food for thought about language and privacy rights (with “newsy” interludes sprinkled throughout, like Internet quizzes and items about cover-ups).” (Citizen Reader)

James Orbesen on Andrea Barrett’s Archangel: “For a novel-in-stories largely about science, the work hums from start to finish. The prose wraps you up and transports you alongside the characters, marveling, as they do, at the world around them.” (Bookslut)

Katie Haegele on Ali Liebegott’s Cha-Ching!: “Cha-Ching! is Liebegott’s third book, and her writing, which has had flashes of brilliance all along, has gotten stronger and more fully developed. There is something about her perspective that makes her descriptions of things utterly unique.” (

Bruce Ramsey on Earle Labor’s Jack London: An American Life: “Labor’s “Jack London: An American Life” is not as lively as Haley’s “Wolf,” but if any biography is definitive, it is probably Labor’s.” (Seattle Times)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Mark Sanderson on Mark Lawson’s The Deaths: “The uncertainty, as when watching a one-armed juggler, makes for an uneasy experience. The set pieces – a theatre visit, a weekend in Marrakesh – are vivid but, again, overextended.” (Telegraph)

Suzi Feay on Peter Ackroyd’s Three Brothers: “The opening pages are written in a flat, declarative style, without flourishes… The story soon evolves without necessarily becoming much richer in verbal texture.” (The Independent)

Chris Lites on Max Barry’s Lexicon: ” If William S. Burroughs was right, and “language is a virus,” then Max Barry’s Lexicon turns the idea into the literal truth.” (The Rumpus)

Bob Hoover on A. Scott Berg’s Wilson: “Berg might have managed this massive historical record best by aiming a laser beam through it to illuminate the essential Woodrow Wilson and his precedent-shattering presidency, yet he often gets sidetracked by the sheer bulk of the material.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Sunday Evening Book Reviews

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Graydon Carter on J. Michael Lennon’s Norman Mailer: A Double Life: “Lennon’s glorious biography is the first of what one can only assume will be many final reports to come.” (NYTimes)

Kamila Shamsie on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch: “Plot and character and fine prose can take you far – but a novel this good makes you want to go even further. The last few pages of the novel take all the serious, big, complicated ideas beneath the surface and hold them up to the light.” (The Guardian)

Hillary Busis on Veronica Roth’s Allegiant: “…the plot, which finds Roth’s characters venturing beyond their city’s walls only to discover a new network of conspiracies, is straight out of the sci-fi handbook, clumsy racism allegory and all.” (

Heller McAlpin on Geordie Greig’s Breakfast With Lucian: The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain’s Great Modern Painter: “Greig offers a fond but by no means whitewashed account of how Freud’s spectacularly messy life relates to his extraordinary body of work as “the greatest realist figurative painter of the twentieth century.”" (LATimes)

Thursday Evening Book Reviews

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Lionel Shriver on Dave Eggers’ The Circle: “Eggers’ concerns are timely: the comprehensive invasion of privacy to which we are all becoming inured; today’s compulsive documentation of life, until it seems as if no one is actually living it; so much communication for its own sake, regardless of what we have to say; the erosion of silence, reflection and the integrity of our interior worlds by devices meant to keep us all “connected”; and the falsity of what now passes for human contact.” (Financial Times)

Meganne Fabrega on Jo Baker’s Longbourn: “Baker is smart to capitalize on the continuing popularity of Austen’s novels, as well as the increased interest in television shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Upstairs Downstairs,” and her writing style draws admirably from Austen’s.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Kirkus Reviews on Scott Turow’s Identical: “Classic (in more senses than one) Turow.” (Kirkus)

Tyler Doyle on Glenn O’Brien’s The Cool School: “These pieces give the reader some ideological building blocks to play with, and show that the modern hipster’s problems—enlightened selfishness, nebulous sense of identity, superficial coolness—aren’t as new as they seem.” (The Rumpus)

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Heather Seggel on Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson: The Biography: “… a fantastic story of a brilliant life cut short, but it can also be read as a blueprint for following your bliss.” (BookPage)

Nicholas Tucker on Meg Rosoff’s Picture Me Gone: “Only 195 pages long, this witty story demands to be re-read once finished, with all the clues about what is going to happen now happily falling into place.” (The Independent)

Sara Vilkomerson on Wally Lamb’s We Are Water: “…despite its occasional unevenness, this family saga is hard to put down.” (

Charles McNulty on Ethan Mordden’s Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre: “More journalistic than academic, “Anything Goes” has a relaxed spryness. (“Oklahoma!” in Mordden memorable formulation, “is a musical comedy undergoing psychoanalysis.”) It’s the work of an expert who is also an unabashed fan, an inveterate theatergoer who can deconstruct a score and reel off sparking backstage anecdotes all in the same paragraph.” (LATimes)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Michiko Kakutani on William Boyd’s Solo: “There is, however, an unnerving disjunction between the essentially escapist nature of the Bond genre and this novel’s harrowing descriptions of the Zanzarim civil war and its fallout, including mass murders and villages filled with dead and starving children.” (NYTimes)

Tom Holland on Matthew Kneale’s An Atheist’s History of Belief: ” It reads, not like the work of the Booker prize-shortlisted novelist he is, but like an extended essay by a sixth-former who has just discovered Richard Dawkins. God willing and inshallah, Matthew Kneale will not be giving up the day job.” (The Guardian)

Bill Lyon on Michael Sokolove’s Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater: “It is crisply written, richly detailed, unflinchingly emotional but not gratuitously maudlin. Sokolove was granted unlimited access, and it shows on every page.” (

Nina Schuyler on Peter Orner’s  Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge: “So many stories, so many settings—Chicago, Buffalo, Wyoming, Spokane, Boston, North Carolina, Mexico City, Lincoln, Nebraska, Minneapolis, Boston, Wyoming, Moscow, Illinois—so many different eras. Themes knit the stories together: family, death, politics, death, memory, and the significance of story and storytelling itself.” (The Rumpus)

Friday Evening Book Reviews

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Lucy Beresford on Jamie Mason’s Three Graves Full: “Mason’s writing is at times fresh and funny, especially at the beginning: “a delicate gut and years of experience had taught [Bayard] to decline coffee brewed in bereavement.”” (Telegraph)

Susan Vio on Reza Kazemi’s Kiss Me! Let the Universe Sing a New Song: “I loved Kazemi’s style of evoking the simplest words to convey profound feelings of love, and relationships. I did wish I could hear the melody on some of them, as I got the message but didn’t hear the music.” (Blogcritics)

David L. Ulin on Richard Rodriguez’s Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography: “Rodriguez is especially vivid writing about loss, including a meditation on Las Vegas seen through the filter of a hospice visit to a friend who is dying of AIDS, and a fragmentary set of riffs on time and disappearance, in which he recalls a homeless man named Wayne…” (LATimes)

Jessica Shaw on Helen Fielding’s Mad About the Boy: “…there are too many pointless subplots, as well as a movie-ready ending that will seem predictable to anyone who can spell ”Ephron.” I too like Bridget very much, but her adventures need to be 100 pages shorter. And a little less gassy.” (

Thursday Evening Book Reviews

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Daniel Bergner on Jesse Bering’s Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us: “So this is a humanizing book — although unfortunately, it’s a book mostly devoid of humans. Aside from his own brief memories, Bering gives us few stories of anyone among the different.” (NYTimes)

Matt Moore on (writer) Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and (illustrator) by Francesco Francavilla’s Afterlife With Archie: “The vibrant, cheerful and safe town of Riverdale is getting a ghoulish makeover.” (Miami Herald)

Malcolm Forbes on Mircea Cartarescu’s Blinding: “Yes, it challenges, but it never feels like a slog, and sticking with it pays huge dividends. Forget the lack of plot and countless tangents and simply lose yourself in its otherworldliness.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Daniel Dyer on Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics: “In this collection, Beard reveals her enormous talents and principal traits as a reviewer – her vast knowledge; her careful reading and consideration of the text; her ability to identify the good, the bad and the ugly; her candor and fairness; her clear style; her profound belief in the value of the classics.” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer)

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Susie Boyt on Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things: “There are moments that seem inspired by Charles Dickens and others where the self-reflective spirit of a Charlotte Brontë heroine guides the author’s pen. In the main, the writing is deft, assured and unpretentious.” (Financial Times)

John Harris on Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles – All These Years: Volume One: Tune In: “…largely a delight, and the story is told so definitively that, after this, that really should be it. Secondary sources are comprehensively mined; letters, public records and business documents have been found in places no one else ever thought to look; friends, associates and acquaintances have been interviewed over what seems to be a quarter-century.” (The Guardian)

Ben Hamilton on Norma Rush’s Subtle Bodies: “Aside from the thematic similarities and phraseological quirks, Subtle Bodies contrasts brutally with Rush’s earlier writing. The sentences are unspectacular, the characters hard to differentiate, and, worst of all, Rush seems to have lost his curiosity.” (The Independent)

Abby McGanney on Stephanie Hemphill’s Hideous Love:  The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein: ” As in “Wicked Girls,” Hemphill’s account of the Salem witch-hunt, this new story is told through a sequence of free-verse poems.” (Washington Post)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Jason McGahan on Anabel Hernández’s Narcoland: “No book in print on the current situation in Mexico collates so many lost documents of abortive investigations or broadcasts so many whispers of insiders before they disappeared into witness protection, were assassinated, or walked away scot-free. An ambitious and daring sketch of the political nexus that ensures the Mexican system of narcotics delivery to the U.S., “Narcoland” has been a bestseller in Mexico for three years and has finally been translated and published in the U.S.” (LATimes)

Rasha Madkour on Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants: “The book fizzles out in its final section, which reads more like a history book and is devoid of the sharp commentary and compelling observations that make the earlier sections such a pleasure to read.” (Seattle Times)

DJ Taylor on Duncan Hamilton’s Immortal: The Approved Biography of George Best: “Hamilton is at his most effective when he writes of Best as an emblem of the age in which he operated: the newly liberated provincial at large in a world of fashion boutiques (several of which he owned), sexual licence and rampant consumerism.” (The Guardian)

A.D. Amorosi on Bob Shacochis’ The Woman Who Lost Her Soul: “…Shacochis wastes no time entering into the murk of geopolitics or its taboos – this time, the voodoo culture and corrupted governments of occupied Haiti in the 1990s.” (

Friday Evening Book Reviews

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Melissa Maerz on Jo Baker’s Longbourn: “Diehards who love Jane Austen and Downton Abbey will fan their corseted bosoms while tearing through this novel…” (

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland: “Her artful writing combines short, simple sentences with lyrical turns of phrase. She sorts through her characters’ lives with uncommon delicacy.” (Seattle Times)

Michael Caines on (editor) Adam Thirlwell’s Multiples: 12 stories in 18 languages by 61 authors: “Multiples contains just twelve “original” stories, but it presents those stories “in 18 languages by 61 authors”. A sequence of translations runs its course; another, with a new point of origin and new set of translators, then sets off.” (The Times Literary Supplement)

Heather Seggel on Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy’s The Seige: “The authors have a gripping and complex story to tell, so it’s a bit confounding when they spend more than 60 pages introducing characters before beginning to diagram the action. Instead of making it easier to tell everyone apart, it adds to the confusion.” (BookPage)

Wednesday Evening Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Mark Brunswick on David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service: “It’s a testament to Finkel’s considerable journalistic skills that this is no sentimental or clichéd work. His vivid descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life provide a fly-on-the-wall observation without judgment.” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Ron Charles on Dave Eggers’s The Circle: “At 500 pages, this relentless broadside against the corrosive effects of the connected life is as subtle as a sponsored tweet. Make no mistake: Eggers has seen the Facebook effect, and he does not “like” it. His parable of technological madness reads like a BuzzFeed list of “Top 10 Problems With the Web.”” (Washington Post)

Emma Hagestadt on Simon Sebag Montefiore’s One Night in Winter: “Sebag Montefiore has an instinct for a good story, but it takes a very accomplished novelist to make such incredible events seem real. While lacking the emotional impact of Helen Dunmore’s masterful Leningrad novels, the book does an excellent job at evoking the texture of everyday life in Stalinist Moscow – from the plush apartments of the grandees to the drab interiors of prisons and schools.” (The Independent)

Emily M. Keeler on Michael Hingston’s The Dilettantes: “While there are scenes where untagged dialogue reads like an automatic weapon that shoots almost contextless jokes in lieu of of bullets, it gradually becomes clear that Hingston wants his reader to have it both ways; the bite of satire (Alex calls it “irony’s nobler and better-dressed sibling”) and the satisfaction of sincerity. But how can irony be suitably ironized? At what point does the means undermine the end?” (The Globe and Mail)

Monday Evening Book Reviews

Monday, September 30th, 2013

David L. Ulin on T.C. Boyle’s Stories II: “In “Stories II” we stare down 15 years of fiction, from the great to the serviceable, and how does it add up?” (LATimes)

The Independent on Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge: “Bleeding Edge has been trailed as Pynchon’s 11 September novel, his attempt to narrate the internet, a postmodern game of join the dots (or dotcoms) linking venture capitalism, virtual reality and terrorism. The plot itself is a baggy detective story that elevates the conspiracy theory to high art.” (The Independent)

Karen E. Quinones Miller on Terry McMillan’s Who Asked You?: “There’s not a lot of drama or glamour in Who Asked You?, and the book starts off a little slowly. Then again, so does life.” (

Michael Sangiacomo on Congressman John Lewis’ March: “Hopefully, subsequent books in the series will soon follow, to give inspiration to people young and old.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Sunday Evening Book Reviews

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Barbara Kingsolver on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things: “The narrative stretches but its center holds, thanks to the protagonist’s engaging credibility as a woman on good terms with her strengths and limitations.” (NYTimes)

Jackie Wullschlager on (editor and translator) Alex Danchev’s The Letters of Paul Cézanne: “At the heart of the book lies the relationship with Emile Zola, Cézanne’s friend from Aix’s Collège Bourbon, where the future artist won prizes for Latin and Greek (quotations from Horace and Virgil unexpectedly pepper his prose) but never for drawing. Zola was weedy, fatherless and foreign, and sturdy Cézanne protected him.” (Financial Times)

Geoff Dyer on Guido Mina di Sospiro’s The Metaphysics of Ping-Pong: “The book does raise one unanswerable question though. We can see its appeal and why Mina di Sospiro might have been offered a contract to write it. But how on (this spinning) earth did that contract remain intact when the publisher read the manuscript that resulted?” (The Guardian)

Kirkus on Mary Miley’s The Impersonator: “Historian Miley, winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award, presents a colorfully detailed mystery that partially succeeds and a heroine whom readers will want to see succeed even more.” (Kirkus Reviews)