Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and the Editorial Director of the Chicago Review of Books, where she writes a monthly column on contemporary literature and climate change. Her writing has appeared in Oprahmagazine, The New Republic, Pacific Standard, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, Catapult, and several other places. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has won awards from the National Science Foundation, the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Conference, the Center for Research Libraries, and various academic organizations. She is also the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Research Fellowship.
RaveThe Star TribuneThis isn’t the first time Morris experimented with structure. He drew criticism by inserting himself as a fictional narrator in his biography of Reagan. But here the book’s unusual shape makes good plotting sense and builds anticipation: As Thomas Edison grows younger, readers grow closer to the moment he creates his most famous invention, the incandescent light bulb.
Morris portrays the months leading up to this moment with cinematic power, giving equal weight to the intriguing details of Edison’s experiments and to his emotional state as he emerged, at last, from an abyss of failures ... Exhaustive in scope but paced like a novel, Edison is a definitive biography by one of the finest practitioners of the craft.
RaveShelf Awareness... moving—if occasionally enraging ... Our Symphony with Animals is a timely and necessary book that sheds light on how far animals will go to help us, and how much better we need to treat them in return ... This deeply affecting book reveals just how important animals are to human health and happiness.
RaveHyperallergicThe novel’s feminist themes grow more pronounced as the story slowly reveals itself to be a twist on the classic \'dead girl\' thriller...Bourland gives us instead a female-driven exploration of a young woman’s death ... The novel unfolds at the pace of a thriller but is steeped in contemporary art theory ... [Bourland\'s] dedication to the subject is clear on every page: The book brims with allusions to Lucy Dodd, Laura Owens, and Marina Abramovich ... Impressively, Bourland’s eruditeness rarely weighs down her prose, which zips across the page like a steady painter’s hand across a canvas. The characters’ crackling dialogue is also a pleasure to read, especially when they’re discussing art ... Glittering with wit and mystery, Fake Like Me is more than an immensely readable portrait of an artist — it shatters expectations with pointed satire and structural daring.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksThrough poems that verge into prose or otherwise defy formal categorization, Wright traces the trees’ locations from the Ozarks up through Cairo, Illinois and into Rhode Island ... Her poems zoom in closely, remarking upon the beeches’ tiniest parts...before panning back out to review their grandest roles in American history...Intertwined are poems steeped in personal memory ...Throughout this beautifully bound book are photographs by Denny Moers ... The juxtaposition of the two art forms undergirds the lyricism of the photos while highlighting the rooted-in-truth quality of the poems. Fiction and nonfiction blend in other exciting ways ... [a] list-poem presents an almost overwhelming picture of what we could lose in the face of climate change.
PositiveShelf AwarenessWhite is a sparse but talented writer, his sharp lines cutting the page like knives. With few details he paints vivid scenes ... Sometimes his scenes are so striking they read like frames from a movie, which makes sense, because White is also a screenwriter ... Deftly plotted, with believable characters, The Nowhere Child is a satisfying mystery by a talented new voice in the genre.
RaveHyperallergic...entirely original ... She creates these temporal collisions by combining her own original text with found images, and the results are exceedingly uncanny ... All of the vignettes suggest hauntings of one kind or another—supernatural, psychological, metaphorical—and each left me unsettled but riveted ... Other vignettes in Guestbook resist easy description. But that’s the beauty of this book ... Guestbook draws eerie, tantalizing power from moments of confusion.
Rita Indiana, Trans. by Achy Obejas
RaveChicago Review of Books...beguiling but wonderfully thrilling ... From beginning to end, Tentacle is a strange, unnerving, and at times beautiful book that critiques global inequality and the politicization of climate change. Moreover, it throws into question the rigidity of time-old categories of gender, race, and spiritual beliefs. Excitingly, it also amplifies a Dominican voice on the matter of climate change, which as Tentacle makes clear, has already impacted the Caribbean in devastating ways.
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsHer immensely engaging memoir is unflinchingly honest about the pain and fear that many immigrants (especially undocumented ones) experience when crossing the border, but it\'s never an argument about whether they should have crossed in the first place ... Grande looks back at her childhood with the emotional maturity of a writer who has worked hard to understand what happened ... She also writes frankly about her unhealthy romantic relationships. The book never stoops to clichés about looking for love in all the wrong places. Instead, Grande uses her love life as a trellis for investigating her own needs as a mother and a woman with professional goals. In this way, the book becomes more than a story about living as an immigrant—it\'s an eye-opening look at life in America as a woman. Such complexity is what makes A Dream Called Home so enjoyable. The news cycle tends to reduce immigration stories to political talking points, but Grande\'s keen insight and scrupulous prose remind us just how layered and inspiring those stories actually are.
RaveShelf AwarenessIn clear and accessible prose ... Berger\'s tales are as compassionate as they are exciting to read. For example: when his experiment involving putting tracking collars on Arctic musk oxen results in the death of some of the herd, he considers the possibility that they\'re sentient, and seeks to find more humane means of gathering data. Extreme Conservation is a moving and necessary look at what the Earth will lose if climate change is left unchecked.
PositiveThe New RepublicAt the heart of the book is a difficult question: Is Tangier worth saving? The answer depends, writes Swift, on what we as a society decide to value. We \'will not have the money, the physical means, or the time to save\' every place, he writes. \'So we…will have to develop a rubric\' for choosing which communities to protect from the encroaching sea. But how much is Tangier’s history worth? As much as New Orleans’s? As Miami’s? What if we decide that a population’s average household income is a worthier metric? ... As...[Swift] make[s] clear, climate change is already happening, and affecting most severely the communities that are already struggling.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsThe biographical information Barnet presents isn't necessarily new; several biographies have been written about each of these women. Instead she offers a fresh analysis of why they came to prominence at the time they did, and how their habits of mind matched up in startling ways despite their having never met ... Food chains, neighborhoods, chimpanzee communities, even gardens operate as webs of communication and relationships that humans in the 1950s and early '60s had yet to sufficiently understand. By making those links visible, Barnet argues, these women brought about shifts in awareness that indeed changed the world.
RaveThe Dallas Morning News\"Sharp is a beautifully written, well-researched and much needed correction to criticism\'s historical record ... Perhaps most remarkable about this book is its methodology. Sharp is at once a work of flash biography, textual analysis and cultural history. In the hands of a lesser writer, a treatise with this many layers could have collapsed into a disorganized heap. But Dean, an award-winning critic in her own right, navigates from one layer to the next with grace. It amazes to think that this is her first book.\
Veronica Gerber Bicecci, Trans. by Christina MacSweeney
RaveShelf AwarenessOriginally written in Spanish, Empty Set... is a wonderfully beguiling novel that demonstrates the beautiful similarities between language and math ... Empty Set is also brimming with observations that verge on existential philosophy ... it sets a new standard for excellence in experimental fiction.
RaveThe Dallas Morning News\"Fraser offers a revealing look at Wilder\'s pioneering life on the Great Plains, showing us where the author\'s real life matched up with the autobiographical Little House series and where it departed … Comprehensive in scope and meticulously researched, the book is a joy from start to finish, an exquisitely written examination of how life on the harsh, 19th-century prairie shaped both the written work and worldview of one of the most famous women in American letters … Here and throughout the book, Fraser pulls off an impressive balancing act: She avoids overly simplistic characterizations of the homesteaders as villains, but she offers an unflinching account of the plight of American Indians. It\'s a welcome correction to Wilder\'s story — rarely did the Little House books or the TV series adaptation offer anything like sympathy for native peoples.\
RaveThe Dallas Morning News\"...gorgeous and sprawling … In many ways, Salt Houses is about the displacement of millions in war-ravaged lands. But more precisely, it\'s about the significance of ‘home’— what it means to make a home, to lose it, and to go home again when nothing looks or feels the same. Each generation of Alia\'s family remembers their birthplaces with fondness, even as their parents, forced from their own places of birth, resent the cities they move to. \
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsRosenstiel's talent for balance departs from the genre's norm. He doesn't take sides—readers of all political stripes will enjoy this book. Rather, he focuses on the complex machinations of federal government ... Shining City rises as one of the smartest thrillers in recent memory ... Each chapter balances cutthroat action with fascinating insider observations, and line-to-line, Rosenstiel's writing is sparkling clear, even when parsing Washington's confusing matrix of ideology and special-interest groups. The dialogue is also well-written. It drives the story forward, and the characters speak like real people ... With its slam-bang pace, richly drawn characters and intricate examination of political skullduggery, Shining City is more than a thrilling adventure — it's a hard look at how and why Washington so often falls short of its shiny, hilltop ideal.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsA dark and riveting mystery ... occasionally, the narrative shapeshifts into three columns per page, each describing the same moment from a different point of view. The effect is terrifically eerie — it's as if the characters are feeling a sense of bodily disassociation, whether due to drug use or extreme fear ... the thriller transcends its genre to become a fascinating study in generational trauma ... Dustin passes on his difficulty relating to the world to at least one of his sons, who unbeknownst to his father, has developed a hard drug habit. This subplot, like the others, is frequently engaging but feels ancillary until the end. But that's a welcome change from mainstream thriller writing — too few writers prize atmosphere as much as narrative tautness. With Ill Will, Chaon succeeds at delivering both.
Paul La Farge
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe Night Ocean has no center. No single character dominates the story, and no one event serves as a foundation for all others. The plot unfolds like a series of Russian nesting dolls, and thrillingly so: Like the best of Lovecraft, this novel questions the capacity of language to describe reality with accuracy ... more than a great read—it’s a timely meditation on the challenge of separating artist from art and the limits of human understanding.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksFew books in recent memory have mastered the Midwestern uncanny as well as John Darnielle’s strange and lyrical Universal Harvester ... the book defies expectations. Instead of unfolding as a gothic thriller brimming with mystery-solving and monster-dodging, it becomes something far stranger ... The book becomes, in part, a meditation on grief and healing and a young man’s need to find his footing in a world of limited opportunity ... It’s also gorgeously written. Via the Mountain Goats, Darnielle is known for poetic songwriting, a talent parlayed into elegiac descriptions of the Midwestern landscape ... By both celebrating and lamenting the harshness of the Midwest, Darnielle reveals why it allures as much as it repels. The deeply moving Universal Harvester, with its genre-eschewing structure and ambiguity, may prove to be equally divisive.
Lindsey Lee Johnson
RaveThe Dallas Morning News...this surprisingly adult-themed novel stays rooted in reality — and hyper-reality. That's what makes it so terrifying ... In the hands of a lesser writer, these kids would read as stereotypes, but Johnson delves deep into their individual psychologies, revealing them to be as unique as fingerprints ... Molly's slow unraveling of their past makes for a fascinating, often comic, and ultimately heartbreaking read ... In its most insightful moments, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth also reminds us just how moving a teen drama can be.
RaveThe Chicago Review of Books...one of the year’s most engaging volumes ... With its hardboiled edge, Connolly’s story is also the collection’s most noir-ish, but nearly all convey dark themes ... Each tale sings with the distinct voice of its creator, and all are worthy reads in their own right—an appreciation of Hopper isn’t necessary to enjoy all they have to offer ... The narratives included here fulfill that promise inherent in Hopper’s work. And like the best of that work, they suggest a world that continues beyond themselves, one filled with light, shadow, and the mystery of other people.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksKluger tells the complex and thoroughly engaging history leading up to and including the moment of Zenger’s trial for seditious libel of a government figure ... Zenger’s trial does not unfold until the final chapter. But Kluger writes with such vivid detail and brisk pacing that the rather tortuous history that leads there is packed with drama ... Kluger’s summaries of the Journal’s most satirical passages are great fun to read for the rare glimpses they offer into the minds of crafty 18th-century politicians ... Kluger’s book is based on original if spotty archival sources, leaving Kluger to rely on phrases such as 'might then have' and 'probably' ... Kluger’s illuminating history makes clear the far more restrictive circumstances of the press in the 18th century, and it stands as a cautionary tale of what might happen if we let history repeat itself.
MixedThe Chicago Review of BooksIf this secondary storyline seems like a strange fit with the first, it is—despite such refreshingly transgressive themes, the two don’t always cohere ... her unknowability runs frustratingly deep for a character whose brain we spend so much time in ... The Red Car therefore reads more like an aimless joyride than a trip with an itinerary—all great fun, but no clear destination.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of Books...despite its pedestrian subject matter, the book is not boring, not even a little. That’s because Patchett’s writing gathers power in small moments ... Then there’s the ease and beauty of her prose. Patchett’s sentences unspool like string tied to a kite in strong wind. They are sharp but accessible, a testament to a writer who has perfected her craft ... Commonwealth is not perfect—a few loose ends never tie up—but neither are families. By examining those imperfections and the pains that loved ones take to overcome them, Patchett has written a family drama for the ages.
RaveThe Chicago Review of BooksThe entire collection is set in Ireland. But McLaughlin’s scrupulous attention to regional details and the nuances of human behavior renders each story unique ... Dinosaurs on Other Planets is more than a compelling read—it’s a study in compassion, a beautifully-written reminder of how often human behavior is dictated by forces and loved ones beyond our control.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksComprised mostly of vignettes, the novel never gains much momentum. But it’s not without drama ...When focused on Janie’s psychology—instead of the concerns of her caretakers—the book is a showcase of Watson’s talent for eking poetics out of country folksiness ... In all its verisimilitude, Miss Jane is painful and hopeful in almost equal measure, a story worth telling even as it breaks your heart.
PositiveThe Chicago Review of BooksTouching, provocative, and poetic, The Bones of Grace brings to life one of the world’s most turbulent places. Yet the novel achieves its power not by focusing on political unrest but by chronicling the difficult life transitions of a passionate young woman. Zubaida startles and fascinates as she questions cultural tradition and personal loyalty, and it’s thrilling to cheer her on at every turn.
PositiveThe MillionsTempest’s novel is remarkable not only for its timely commentary on the financial difficulties faced by many millennials, but for its meticulous examination of parents’ inability to understand their children’s struggles...By artfully intertwining the stories of people who are broken by the city they love, The Bricks That Built the Houses creates a complex narrative that rarely falters and eventually coheres into a strong and lyrical whole.