by Jennifer Egan The candy houseEmily St. John Mandel’s sea of tranquilityDouglas Stuart Young Mungoand Margo Jefferson Building a nervous system all are among April’s top-rated titles.
Presented by Bookmarks“Rotten Tomatoes for Books” by Lit Hub.
1. sea of tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
23 Rave • 7 Positives • 3 Mixed • 1 Pan
Read an interview with Emily St. John Mandel here
“In sea of tranquility, Mandel delivers one of his finest novels and one of his most satisfying forays into the arena of speculative fiction to date, but it is his ability to convincingly inhabit the ordinary and his ability to project an enduring recognition of the beauty that sets the novel apart. As in Ishiguro, this wasn’t born out of some cheap, made-for-TV, fake-emotional gimmick or mechanism, but out of empathy and a hard-won understanding, beautifully embedded in the language… It’s is this aspect of sea of tranquility, Mandel’s finely rendered and understated descriptions of the ancient forests his characters traverse, the domed moon colonies some of them call home, the robotic fields they watch, or the sound of airship take-off they hear even in their dreams, which will be, for this reader at least, the longest.
–Laird Hunt (The New York Times book review)
2. The candy house by Jennifer Egan
22 Rave • 9 Positives • 6 Mixed • 3 Casseroles
Read an interview with Jennifer Egan here
“…a dizzying, dazzling work that should make it onto many a year’s best lists… The candy house demands exquisite attention and considerable effort from its readers. But the hard work and investment pays off, as each strain, thread, and character reverberates in a kind of amplifying echo wave with all the others, and the overall tapestry appears increasingly intricate and brilliantly crafted. . Adopting the book’s dominant metaphor, Egan presents a version of collective consciousness: the blending and extension of individuality through shared experience and identity. One of the more fascinating implications of the book, less overt but pervasive, is how this alternative model of perception does and does not undermine traditional notions of literary consciousness…As we follow the pebbles and crumbs that Egan Presents so skillfully, readers can sometimes feel as bewildered or amazed as children making their way through a dark forest, sometimes with electrifying clairvoyance, sometimes with ecstasy of wisdom, vast philosophical scope, truth and beauty of the novel. Charged with a “bubbling power of ideas”, The candy house is a marvel of a novel that testifies to the irresistible power of fiction to “roam with absolute freedom through the human collective”.
–Priscille Gilman (The Boston Globe)
3.Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart
20 Rave • 4 Positives • 2 Mixed • 1 Pan
Listen to an interview with Douglas Stuart here
“Stuart writes like an angel…masterful…while Stuart didn’t stray far from the scaffolding of his first novel, he managed to produce a story with a very different form and pace…The raw poetry of the prose of Stuart is perfect for taking this handsome boy’s spirit wide, with his strange facial tics… The way Stuart sculpts this oasis amidst a rising tide of homophobia infuses these scenes with an almost unbearable intensity… Stuart reveals himself quickly an extraordinarily effective thriller writer. He is able to excruciatingly pull the strings of suspense while sensitively exploring the confused mind of this sweet teenager trying to make sense of his sexuality… The result is a novel that simultaneously heads towards two crises: what happened spent with James in Glasgow and what might happen. arrive at Mungo in the Scottish wilderness. One is an anticipated calamity of which we can only intuit; the other a coming horror that we can only dread. But even as Stuart pulls those timelines together like a pair of scissors, he creates a little space for Mungo’s future, a little mercy for this spirited young man.
–Ron Charles (The Washington Post)
1. Thin places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh
9 Rave • 7 Positive • 2 Mixed
“Can the Irish border be described as a ‘thin place’? Never have I read such an eloquent description of the pervasive border in our psyche… Readers will derive their own meaning from Ní Docchartaigh’s words, and it leaves them space for reflection… This debut album is not a memoir in the sense traditional ; nor is it a simple polemic about the sectarian violence that tore the author’s childhood in Derry apart; on the contrary, it combines these two elements under the insistent gaze of the poet-writer always anxious to draw our attention to nature… The reader will perhaps be surprised at the depth that Thin places explore. Don’t confuse her appreciation of the natural world with anything twee or purely heartwarming…It’s not for the faint hearted…Ní Docchartaigh’s writing is generous and it leaves little for the reader to guess at those dark days she described in startling detail… The darkness in its subject matter lends itself to light, however. The natural world as a whole is a balm for her… It may seem incongruous to write about the beauty of the whooper swan and the lasting effect of The Troubles in the same paragraph, but Ní Dochartaigh achieves it… It is a book full of hope found in dark places and confronts some of the realities of the Irish border and the lasting effect it has on our lives.
–Mia Colleran (The Irish Independent)
2. Building a nervous system by Margo Jefferson
10 Rave • 1 Positive
“Rather than using the story of her life to structure the book, she organizes her future through her models. Who, she wonders, were these people she hid? In whose eyes did she see herself reflected? The collection is unorthodox… Memoir, the highest form of autofiction, is a genre without manners. Its appeal lies in its indecency. Jefferson’s indecency lies in his honesty about the contortions to which black intellectuals have long been forced…Jefferson does not shy away from his attraction to certain artists who might otherwise have earned him disavowal. She is most adroit when discussing two otherwise unrelated giants: Ike Turner and Willa Cather… The book is a marvel as a work of criticism and would serve well as a writing manual, in the sense of teaching practice as a way of thinking. A sin Negroland, Jefferson looks back on herself, questioning, clarifying and complicating her own intentions. She works through what can’t quite be expressed… The brilliance of the culture we’ve shaped isn’t dulled by the pressure of Jefferson’s interrogation. What remains is something impressive, but choppier, more prone to false starts and massive jumps. Its power demands so much criticism, so many insistent questioning.
–Blaire McClendon (Reading forum)
3. Blood and ruins by Richard Overy
9 Rave • 1 Positive
Read an excerpt from Blood and ruins here
“…praise the prodigious achievement of Overy. Anyone interested in the why and how of unlimited violence in the 20th century should make room for Blood and ruins on his shelf. It will help you capture and revisit the carnage of 1931-45 as the greatest event in human history. No continent, no ocean has been spared, and Overy deftly weaves every subplot into a planetary tapestry of ruthless ideology and industrialized extermination. This book is not Eurocentric, but truly geocentric… Blood and ruins dissects the sinews of war with the sharpest of scalpels. With myriad facts, it’s not for the nightstand, where it has to compete with Netflix. But this is history at its finest, down to the finest points culled from a dozen archives around the world… While watching the talking heads on CNN, keep this masterful work by your side.
–Josef Joffe (The New York Times book review)