Bill Bear lives in a future that has gone through several Covids and Ukraine War-like instances. The US is a bit of a disaster, and Bill makes a living as a courier. He mostly moves people and objects and does the odd cleanup and assassinations if called upon. He is a master of living on the fringes, outside the system, a ghost with no real identity. So, when he is in the middle of a contract job and one of his burner phones goes off, it freaks him out. Nobody should have any of the numbers of his phone at this point, but that's when more of them go off, with a very insistent person on the other end about to change Bill's outlook on life and royally piss off Bill’s employer. Dan Chaon provides a road novel, a rundown, and a harsh future world. While I don't want to live there, I loved reading this bleak future of ours.
— Jason Kennedy
The Sullivans have run their family restaurant in Oak Park for three generations, but three unexpected occurrences send the family into disarray - the 2016 election, the Cubs World Series victory, and the sudden death of Bud, the family patriarch. Then there are the setbacks that should have been expected, given the ill-chosen life partners of the Sullivan third generation, Gretchen, Jane, and Teddy. The story is centered on them, two sisters and a cousin, with special appearances by Teddy’s younger half-sister Riley, as their lives spin out of control, sending them back to Sullivan’s. But family is not the best place to avoid drama. This first-rate fractured family free-for-all is Chicago-infused and food forward, from sandwich loafs to sliders. So glad I finally read a Jennifer Close novel - I can’t wait to read another!
— Daniel Goldin
Restaurant reviewer Dana Potowski is asked to be on the committee to pick the new minister for her Unitarian Universalist congregation and decides to write a memoir about the experience, but how is she going to do that when she’s agreed to confidentiality? The committee, a varied lot of big personalities, seems to be on the same page regarding generalities, but when it comes to the specifics, conflicts arise, factions take hold, and Dana’s not exactly the only committee member keeping a few secrets. If you had asked me for a shortlist of compelling plots for a novel, I would not have come up with this one, but I would have been dead wrong, and not just because whenever I describe it to someone, I often get the response: I would read that! Search is a wonderful novel filled with vibrant characters, essential philosophical questions (most notably, what do we want from life?), and a cornucopia of foodie delights.
— Daniel Goldin
After reading Sea of Tranquility, a novel that veers from a hundred years in the past to almost 300 in the future, I wondered if a new reader to Emily St John Mandel would love it as much as I did. I decided they would, with a caveat that they might have to stop everything and read the author’s previous novels. But for folks who’ve read Station Eleven and The Great Hotel, with both references that tie the story together and laugh-out-loud meta-commentary (you’ll know it when you get to it), the rewards are mind-blowing.
— Daniel Goldin
I'm trying to understand why Mandel's writing casts a spell on me. I don’t have a complete answer, but I’ve decided on this: her style is steady and beautiful, she’s smart without sounding pretentious, and her characters feel true. There's a flesh and blood intimacy about them that makes me feel safe in their world, even as we’re brought to the edge of catastrophe. When tragedy comes, I want to face it with these fictional people. This novel builds on The Glass Hotel (which I loved!) and Station Eleven (which I now must read!). It brings the past and future together as if connections across time are waiting to be discovered. It throws our reality into doubt by questioning how we came to be, and it shows us that technology will never hide our humanity. I’ll forgo the summary and just say that Mandel has created a dazzling story with humble simplicity, then tied it tight with a perfect ending.
— Tim McCarthy
As humans, what do we really want in life? You can probably think of lots of things, but I’m going to guess that connections with others are definitely in the top three. Besides her brilliantly crafted sentences, the sometimes significant, sometimes small ways her characters and her books connect to each other make Emily St. John Mandel’s books unforgettable and so compelling. The Sea of Tranquility is her best yet for tying together some loose ends that I didn’t even realize were loose. I loved revisiting characters from previous books in timelines that sometimes cross one another but often run in parallel universes. It’s not a spoiler for either book to say that Mandel’s novel Station Eleven appears in The Sea of Tranquility as a novel written by one of the characters. The most significant connection of this fictional author’s life is made on a book tour to promote it. And if you are like me, the beauty of the ending will make you cry. All that said, these connections are bits of joy implanted in the book. You don’t need to have read previous titles. The Sea of Tranquility will keep you up reading late into night, and you’ll carry the story in your thoughts as you go about your day, constantly checking the time, waiting for the minute you can return to Emily St. John Mandel’s exquisitely built world.
— Jenny Chou
Some Anne Tyler novels are hyper focused, with one character in the spotlight or a very compact time frame. Others have the scale of epics, following multiple characters over generations. French Braid is one of the latter, following the Garrett family over the course of 60-odd years. The way Tyler sees it, sometimes you don’t get the kid you would expect, but maybe your sibling will. Together, you’ll still look like a family tree - or should I say rug? Tyler’s canvas broadens a bit here. One character actually shops at Giant instead of Eddie’s, and by the end of the story, hardly anyone lives in Baltimore! This may be Tyler’s 24th novel, but nobody can say she’s coasting. Did I mention I’ve read all 24? Is this brag-reviewing? It’s not necessarily the quirkiest of her novels (we’re talking about a plumbing supply business here), but it’s as eloquent, heartfelt, and quietly humorous as she gets, with several scenes that stopped me in my tracks. Happy reading!
— Daniel Goldin
Anthony Doerr intricately weaves together three story lines, scattered throughout time, in a brilliant tapestry of wonder. What holds this all together is an ancient Greek text that should’ve been lost to time. As we bob in and out of the different characters’ stories, we see how the text moves and influences their decisions and actions. We see the power of a written text and how people will devote resources and lives to the discovery and protection of the written word. There is so much to talk about in this book; please read it so I can discuss it with you. An amazing, epic novel!
— Jason Kennedy
An ancient Greek text ties together three stories in this long-awaited follow-up to All the Light We Cannot See. Whether he is writing about the Siege of Constantinople, a small-town Idaho library under attack, or a rocket’s worth of humanity trying to escape Earth’s devastation, Anthony Doerr has a way with compelling characters and a story that is both beautifully written and compulsively readable through its short chapters bursting with tension. Together, Cloud Cuckoo Land becomes a triumphant ode to storytelling and a heartfelt celebration of libraries.
— Daniel Goldin
Readers will carry Doerr’s latest story in their thoughts as they go about their day, checking watches or phones, waiting for the minute they can return to his world and his characters. The book is a breathtaking tribute to the art and power of storytelling and a reminder of the wondrous places libraries are to those of us who love them. An ancient Greek manuscript is at the center of the story, and its passage through time connects children (and the adults they become). Anna, in 1453, is a clumsy seamstress by day and a stealthy thief by night. She unearths the manuscript, and the story within, and goes on to protect it with her life during the siege of Constantinople. On a snowy night in Idaho, centuries later, a small library hosting a play based on the manuscript becomes the accidental stage for a teenager’s burst of righteous anger. And generations into the future, after humans have managed to ravage our home planet, a spaceship carrying our hope for survival as a species speeds through space. Onboard is fourteen-year-old Konstance, whose fascinating use of the latest library technology binds all the stories together. Cloud Cuckoo Land dances between emotionally wrenching and simply beautiful, and I was left in awe of Anthony Doerr, storyteller.
— Jenny Chou
These characters are beautiful outcasts, different in ways too clear to miss, ways that push them out. They're beautiful for how they fight to keep what’s best about the Earth, and life, in spite of the most painful circumstances. They focus on the people, objects, natural places, and stories that stand side by side with the indignities of humanity. In the brutal siege of 15th century Constantinople, in a beloved and threatened 20th century Idaho forest, in a harsh Chinese prisoner of war camp, and in the containment of a ship blazing through future space, they dream of possibilities. From the opening it seems the time to save a healthy Earth has past. This is the story of saving an ancient piece of tattered writing, an ancient story rescued from the decay of time by these outcasts, as they fight for hope. Doerr's extraordinary details of living in these places make the characters all the more real as he makes a dramatic case that saving stories may indeed have the power to save us as well.
— Tim McCarthy
This book was one of the most stunning ways to begin 2021. I absolutely love this book. First, this is my only (but surely not the last) experience with Matt Haig’s writing. He crafts his story by masterfully taking the reader by the hand and - quite literally - jumps through time and space of the main character’s life (or, lives). The story is easy and enjoyable to follow. It was definitely a satisfying page turner that remained thought provoking even when I wasn’t reading. Second, I am a nerd for how words are strung together to convey descriptions. For example, when the reader is faced with the physical sensations of how depression grips the main character’s body, it’s some of the most beautiful yet painful sentences I’ve ever read. From what I know about the author, perhaps only someone who has truly experienced the physicality of such low moments could be able to illustrate them so clearly. And, if one can relate to these sensations, it makes the writing all the more powerful. Haig’s descriptiveness allows the reader to share in the lows and highs of every emotion and situation the main character gets into, and it’s part of what makes this novel so great. The reader is placed in her shoes, exploring life with her - if not as her. Lastly, I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in existential questions that deal with the self and introspection or philosophy that deals with solitude and the development of the self. Overall, it’s such an inspiring and refreshing read.
— Rose Camara