Carol MemmottCarol Memmott is a book critic and entertainment writer. She spent more than two decades as a reporter and editor for USA Today. She moved from covering national news to writing about popular culture, books and television. Since leaving USA Today in 2013, Memmott’s writings have appeared in People, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune and The Minneapolis Star Tribune. Carol can be found on Twitter @CarolMemmott
PositiveThe Washington Post\"The late-in-the-novel revelation of how Katya’s piano travels from Khrushchev’s Russia to sunny California is ably and convincingly told ... As interesting as these women’s stories are, Clara’s stagnates at times ... The details involved with hauling, loading and unloading it from the truck, adjusting tire inflation and continually lifting the piano onto a dolly is as exhausting for the characters as it is tedious for the reader ... But Cander... has a gift for offering readers access to unique experiences ... Cander’s poetic description of Blüthner knocking on the trees with his walking stick and pressing his ear against them... reminds us how little we wonder about the provenance of the handmade and manufactured goods we consume and discard. She conveys her characters’ emotions in equally lyrical ways ... [Katya and Clara\'s] journeys to enlightenment, as well as the Blüthner’s transcontinental travels, make this a worthy novel despite the story’s occasional sluggishness.\
RaveChicago TribuneThe series that began with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo doesn\'t lose its spark in the hands of a new author. Lagercrantz deftly blends the spirit of Larsson\'s work and characters with his own literary skills and bright imagination ... Spider\'s Web is an intelligent novel that has Salander entangled in one of the most contentious issues of our times ... a riveting political/techno thriller. It\'s as gripping as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
RaveUSA Today\"Matthews writes a smart, intriguing tale rooted in his own experience as an operative. He does it so well that fans of the genre\'s masters including John le Carré, creator of George Smiley, and Ian Fleming who gave us James Bond, will happily embrace Matthew\'s central spy ... This is a global story, packed with foot pursuits, car chases and safe houses. It shifts quickly and breathlessly from the U.S. embassies in Moscow and Helsinki to post-Soviet basement torture chambers in Russia to Putin\'s dacha west of Moscow to the elegant Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens. A sizzling plot, high-octane characters and a scorching finish run through this perfect summer novel.\
PositiveChicago TribuneWilla Drake, the protagonist in her latest novel, Clock Dance, feels like a character we already know — and one we’re delighted to meet again ... Tyler uses 100 pages to set up why Willa is the way she is. It’s at times a long slog, often filled with people and incidents that seem to bear no impact on the story Tyler’s telling. The payoff comes when the story jumps to 2017, and Willa’s awakening begins ... What’s so amazing about Tyler’s novels is the way she makes ordinary people and ordinary things so fascinating ... In Tyler’s hands, life’s mundane activities feel vital. Her imperfect but lovable characters are people who act and feel like us ... It may be hard for some readers to embrace Clock Dance, the story of one somewhat privileged woman’s longing for a more satisfying life ... Readers who make the effort, though, will enjoy Willa’s journey.
PositiveThe Washington PostTexas author Julia Heaberlin writes poetically about the geographic enormity of the Lone Star State, marveling at its \'monotonous, beautiful solitude.\' Like many writers before her, she is in thrall to its atmosphere and the desolation one can feel driving through the vast empty spaces that separate its small towns and modern cities. This makes for a perfect setting for a gritty road-trip novel like Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts ... If you can buy into the premise that the narrator is so desperate to solve her sister’s disappearance that she puts her own life in danger by hitting the road with a suspected killer, you’ll enjoy the journey and all its macabre side trips ... You’ll step out of this fictional vehicle feeling like you’ve been T-boned by an 18-wheeler.
RaveThe Washington PostJonathan Evison takes a battering ram to stereotypes about race and class in his fifth novel, Lawn Boy. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale spiked with angst and anger, but also full of humor and lots of hope. Mike Muñoz is the lovable young hero of this engaging story in which people growing up outside the cushy world of the upwardly mobile get knocked down over and over ... everything leads to a lesson we can all learn: Change comes when people work together ... Life in 2018 appears to be getting more complicated for people like Mike, but Evison has written an effervescent novel of hope that can enlighten everyone.
RaveThe Washington PostAfter Anna, her latest stand-alone novel, fits comfortably into the on-trend female-centric psychological suspense genre ... Scottoline quickly rolls out a stunner of a story line, and even its bare bones are meaty and scrumptiously intriguing ... The last 100 pages of this book are nerve-rattling, shocking and explosively violent, even as Scottoline gets to the heart of what lengths a mother will go to protect her child.
PositiveUSA TodayMarlantes' writing is evocative. We feel the Marines' exhaustion as they dig gun pits, carry dead and wounded comrades, and nearly die from hunger. During one ‘hump’ through the jungle, Mellas and his men don't eat for eight days. They lick dew off their ponchos to stay hydrated … We smell the stink of fear, blood and unwashed bodies. We even smell death as the body of one of the fallen rots over the week they carry it with them. No one is left behind … Marlantes doesn't tell a new story, and his characters often fit the proverbial war-story stereotypes. But he pitches us into a harrowing narrative we won't soon forget.
PositiveUSA TodayNoir is new territory for Pynchon, but he handles it as deftly as masters of the genre. It eerily resonates with a Chandleresque vibe, and yet it's all Pynchon … The names of Pynchon's characters alone are worth the price of the book: Detective Bigfoot Bjornsen, Jason Velveeta, Crocker Fenway and Arthur Tweedle … If you think you don't possess the patience or the gray matter to ‘get’ a Pynchon novel, Vice is for you. This reader would go so far as to call it a beach read.
RaveUSA TodayThe massacre and the hangings, which take place near Pluto, N.D., in 1911, wend their way through this masterfully told story that braids together the lives of a handful of people soldered by family and town history to the century-old crimes … This is not a detective story but the languid unraveling of a till-now-never-solved crime, the memory of which is carried through — and haunts — succeeding generations … Erdrich offers these remembrances and stories in the form of a book, but they share the style and sensibility of the oral traditions of past centuries.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe novel’s plot is as provocative as its title, and the book nicely fits into the psychological suspense genre that’s riding a slipstream of popularity... Set mostly in London, this twisty-turny tale begins in 2000 and chronicles early days in the marriage of Lily MacDonald, a 26-year-old lawyer, and Ed, her budding-artist husband ... More than a decade will pass before Carla comes back into the MacDonalds’ lives. That’s when this novel’s seemingly unending trove of delicious disasters and deceits meld to reveal what all these characters are hiding ... The addictive My Husband’s Wife is populated with messed-up yet sympathetic misfits who remind us that the past can maintain a stranglehold on the future. The ending is weirdly outrageous, but satisfying.
PositiveUSA TodayHe can take the relationship between husband and wife and turn it into the most monstrous — and in some cases bloodiest — affair imaginable. It's what he does in Full Dark, No Stars, a collection of four longish short stories...is an ugly story of almost indescribable violence although King does quite a job of describing it in excruciating detail ...King laments that people have fallen out of love with the short story, claiming we're too lazy to bother anymore. But it takes no effort to read Full Dark, No Stars. The pages practically turn themselves. Not so unusual for a King book where weirder things always happen.
RaveUSA TodayLet's make a deal isn't a game show –– it's a con game –– in John Grisham's latest legal thriller. And if all goes according to plan, The Racketeer's Malcolm Bannister is going to game his way out of a federal prison camp in Frostburg, Md ...as in any decent thriller, that's not all there is to the story ...best thing about The Racketeer comes, in part, from an appreciation for the time and calculated thinking that Grisham, the author of more than a dozen legal thrillers, has invested in his clever, twisty plot ... This is the kind of story that built Grisham's reputation as a lion of the literary thriller. The Racketeer is guilty of only one thing: keeping us engaged until the very last page.
RaveUSA TodayLike any good novel, no matter the genre, NOS4A2 zips down the streets of its mesmerizing story line not just in the Wraith but also, and more importantly, on the backs of high-octane characters, especially Victoria McQueen. Her story is a doozy … Vic's fight to save her son has all the earmarks of a comic book superhero's journey. Her special power is the strength that comes from a mother's abiding love. Her trip into the ‘inscape’ of Manx's mind where Christmasland abides is fraught with peril and pain. And you've been warned: Hill imbues the pitter-patter of little feet with a terror you won't soon forget.
MixedUSA TodayNow comes The Twelve, the second book in Cronin's trilogy, in which humankind's struggles continue, but somehow the story is less compelling. There's no diminution of elegant writing. But the story flounders as if the roiling terror of The Passage has been diluted by characters less well-defined and a story line too small for the more than 500 pages it fills. There are wonderfully scary set pieces, and female characters, including Alisha and Sara, are fierce warriors bursting with heart and determination, but the novel's power is less striking … The biblical style of the prologue — ‘For it came to pass that the world had grown wicked …’ — is confusing. The Dramatic Personae, which lists about eight dozen characters and families, only adds to the reader's befuddlement. But lovers of The Passage shouldn't give up. The Twelve's final 100 pages are energized by a human rebellion worthy of the term ‘epic.’
RaveUSA TodayThe story of the Zabinskis' heroics is as uplifting as it is tragic. The zoo's more exotic animals were shipped to German zoos, and bombing raids killed or injured many others. Then the SS and their friends staged a drunken hunting party, shooting the remaining helpless animals in their cages … There's a reason the book is called The Zookeeper's Wife. It is really the story of Antonina, who protected her family from marauding soldiers, fed and hid her secret guests and preserved what she could of the property while her husband was a POW … Ackerman's story is a treatise on nobility — a word that applies to some humans and all of the animals in The Zookeeper's Wife.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneWith nothing else to do with her time, Nella sends a letter to a local miniaturist requesting a handful of custom-made artifacts for the diminutive house. Soon, she's as obsessed with the reclusive miniaturist as she is with his or her exquisite creations … It's an intriguing idea, but one that suffers from a lack of follow-through. Does the miniaturist have supernatural powers? Is Nella the target of a Gaslight-like conspiracy?...That Burton never gives us the answer, and the miniaturist remains in the shadows, is the novel's major shortcoming … As a commentary on the predicament of women in 17th century Holland, The Miniaturist is painfully poignant. Marriage was their only option.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe novel's opening has an almost lighthearted quality. Orion's invited to the wedding, Annie's fretting over the bridal gowns and Viveca thinks it would be lovely to be married in Orion's back yard. One can almost imagine this being the perfect plot for a politically correct 21st-century romantic comedy of manners … In his singularly perceptive voice, Lamb immerses his characters and the novel's readers in powerful moments of hope and redemption and shocking descriptions of violence and abuse. The novel's focus on the creative process flows through an equally fascinating subplot that deals with the life and suspicious death of an African-American artist whose works inspired Annie's career.
PositiveUSA TodayHill doesn't let us down in this story about a man who has definitely been let down — a lot. Not only has he sprouted horns, but he's also the No. 1 suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin…Everyone treats him as if he's the devil incarnate. And now he looks like one … Horns isn't a perfect novel, but it's devilishly good.
RaveUSA TodayWhat's happening in other countries isn't known. Communications are cut off. Commerce, manufacturing and government are wiped out. What does exist are a smattering of isolated outposts where self-sustaining humans live in barricaded fortresses and bright lights run by dying generators keep the virals away at night. This throwback to a pre-technological world makes for a credible and hypnotic narrative … Always simmering in the background of this frightening thriller — first in a trilogy — is a heartfelt portrayal of the human capability to fight, endure and hope for a better world.
RaveUSA TodayLike much of Kite Runner, this admirable follow-up is set in Afghanistan against the backdrop of 30 years of turbulent history … He shows us the interior lives of the anonymous women living beneath identity-diminishing burqas … But Hosseini also writes in gorgeous and stirring language of the natural beauty and colorful cultural heritage of his native Afghanistan … Cultural treasures are a tragic loss, but in A Thousand Splendid Suns, the lack of opportunities and absence of happiness are equally mourned. Hosseini tells this saddest of stories in achingly beautiful prose through stunningly heroic characters whose spirits somehow grasp the dimmest rays of hope.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThrough crackling prose and smart, wryly humorous dialogue, McBride tells his story through the eyes of the slave Henry Shackleford, who as a young boy is kidnapped by Brown during one of his Kansas raids … The Good Lord Bird is a tribute to small but accumulating steps that eventually led to a stampede toward justice and equality. Wrapping the ugliness of slavery in a pitch-perfect adventure story is more than just a reimagining of an historic event. McBride...transcends history and makes it come alive.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Within the guise of a sports novel, Beartown quickly turns dark as Backman exposes the one-track hearts and minds of some of Beartown’s residents ... Current fiction may have no more courageous young female character than Maya, who faces hate and threats after she comes forward about the rape. Backman writes a gritty, heart-stopping account of the sexual assault after which the novel then pivots into even more ominous territory as the town turns on her and her family ... Don’t expect absolute justice in Beartown, but prepare to be uplifted.\
RaveUSA TodayThe remarkable women at the center of this novel, one white and two black, are emblematic of many women of the era … The women's lives become intertwined when Skeeter, who wants to write a book, persuades Jackson's maids to share their experiences — good and bad — working for white families. Tension mounts as the women, fearing for their lives, take personal risks so their stories can be included in Skeeter's book, called Help … Her pitch-perfect depiction of a country's gradual path toward integration will pull readers into a compelling story that doubles as a portrait of a country struggling with racial issues.
RaveThe Washington PostThe family problems Moriarty unwraps are familiar even as we shake our heads, convinced that the terrible goings-on — domestic violence and bullying — could never happen to us … Anyone with children knows that sending your son or daughter to school feels a lot like going back yourself. It’s true for the parents of Pirriwee, whose lives run parallel and then collide under the destructive power of their deceit. They won’t be able to hide behind the facades of Elvis and Audrey on that deadly night at the Pirriwee school … Big Little Lies tolls a warning bell about the big little lies we tell in order to survive. It takes a powerful stand against domestic violence even as it makes us laugh at the adults whose silly costume party seems more reminiscent of a middle-school dance.
PositiveThe Washington PostOur Short History provokes so much emotion. And Grodstein’s storytelling skills make Karen seem so real ... Grodstein’s descriptions of Karen’s treatment are textbook accurate and riveting. She captures the chilling reality of ovarian cancer ... The ending may be predictable, but it carries an important lesson about letting go. In Karen’s case, it’s not so much accepting that she’ll die, leaving Jake behind, it’s the more subtle realization that she has a mother’s duty to help 'the people you love most in the world leave you.'”
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneCarve the Mark has a rock-solid and captivating backdrop. Roth again displays her admirable talents for creating a new world; she describes it in cinematic techno prose that one can easily imagine being transformed into a visually impressive film ... Roth places her characters in a stunningly imagined world, setting them on wondrous planets made of fire, ice or water. They ride in hovercrafts, use out-of-this world technology, participate in richly imagined cultural experiences, fight in arenas and are willing to die to rescue loved ones and vanquish their enemies. Like the best epics, Carve the Mark is laced with rebel plots, family secrets and political conspiracies all while its young characters struggle to come of age in an unstable world. Sadly, Roth seems to spend more time on scene setting and world-building than on making Cyra and Akos into characters with whom we can empathize or identify. They're believable, yet their perpetual grimness might make it hard for some readers to fully invest in cheering them on.
RaveThe Washington Post...a dark, Hitchcockian novel ... Was Annalee a sleepwalking seducer of her neighbors’ husbands? Did one of them — or someone else — murder her? These are some of the many intriguing possibilities in Bohjalian’s atmospheric 18th novel ... Bohjalian immerses his drama in the murky world of sleepwalking and the science that studies it. Lest the story get too weighed down with dry, clinical-sounding references, the poetic Bohjalian opts for sexier phraseology, at times likening a sleepwalker to a vampire who seeks partners to satisfy lust in the middle of the night ... If you’re not yet intrigued, check your pulse, because Bohjalian’s only getting started. You’re going to be an expert on sleep sex by book’s end, and, trust me, you will not be able to stop thinking about it days after you finish reading this book. Like many of Bohjalian’s novels, this neo-New England gothic ends with a surprising and most satisfying twist. It was so deliciously dark that I reread The Sleepwalker to pick up on all the subtle clues this clever novelist dropped with poetically perfect precision throughout.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneIn Wally Lamb's I'll Take You There, time travel feels more like a creaky gimmick than a well-oiled plot device ... By touching the screen, Felix can enter the film and relive his youth. That's all good, but it's a device the novel doesn't need. Lamb provides Felix and his family with a gripping story that effortlessly carries the novel without the need for a time travel contraption.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] deeply moving novel ... She takes us deep into the human heart, and in a relatable story, deftly examines the healing process.
PositiveThe Washington PostCohen offers the nuanced perspective of a confidant ... He also remembers Ephron through what his friendship with her revealed: her love of dinner parties, how she loved to cook for friends, the interest she took in the children of her friends and family members and the insecurities she had about her physical appearance.
RaveThe Chicago TribunePatchett again whips the imagined stories of ordinary people into an extraordinarily interesting work of fiction ... Patchett, with elegance and self-assurance, delivers powerful portraits of her men and women, especially the six stepsiblings who, though they fight and argue, are united in their resentment of their parents. Each has a distinct personality.
PositiveThe Minneapolis StarThe Art of Waiting is not just an honest and heartbreaking account about Boggs’ experience. In addition to the endless medical options available to her and other women, she deftly examines the choices and challenges couples and singles face. She introduces us to people who have pursued domestic and international adoptions and how those families have fared. She delves into 'fertility tourism' to Nepal, Thailand and other countries, where the business of hiring surrogates is booming ... a primer for anyone dealing with infertility. It’s also an eye-opener for anyone who takes having children for granted.
PositiveThe Washington Post...an atmospheric thriller as twisty and tension-filled as her 2015 debut ... The novel’s tone is dark and claustrophobic as Lo continues her search for the woman even though someone is trying to stop her — maybe even kill her.
J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...once you begin reading, your imagination fills in the background, the stage set, and the characters' physical appearance and voices. Our imaginations may not be enough to evoke the dazzling special effects the stage version is being celebrated for, but fans will slide quite easily into this beloved and familiar world ... a most satisfying and well-done follow-up to Deathly Hallows. It's beautifully written and achieves Shakespearean levels of drama.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneBroun's heartfelt and original story is another reminder of human transgressions against the creatures with whom we share the planet ... Broun's tale is a cautionary one, set in a future that's already underway. We don't need to travel forward in time to see how humans are decimating already endangered populations in the animal world.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThe RV trip, at times, feels endless and readers may begin to squirm and wonder when we'll get to where Eggers is taking us. It's one long, dark trip as well through the endless highways of Josie's bad thoughts and memories ... When Eggers unleashes his talent for capturing the innocence and purity of happy children, the story is in overdrive ... Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a memoir about becoming his 8-year-old brother's guardian, proved he could write with passion and clarity about a real boy. Paul and Ana, this novel's heroes, feel just as real. Their story, if we allow Eggers a bounty of artistic license, is just as ingeniously told.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneVinegar Girl strays far from The Taming of the Shrew, but its characters are sympathetic and well-drawn, and Tyler's tale captures the spirit of a thoroughly modern marriage. Her unconventional approach to Shrew feels more like a New Age romantic comedy than a Shakespearean production. For that reason, open-minded readers may enjoy it more than purists who prefer their Shakespeare straight up. Vinegar Girl is an entertaining journey into the world of Shakespeare-lite.
PositiveThe Washington PostGeorgia’s search for former lovers plays out against her relationships with her willful daughters, her feisty mother and her hot-headed girlfriends, Wanda and Violet. The transitions between these subplots seem at times to lack graceful segues, but the evolution of each of these relationships draws Georgia closer to finding a bright, new future...Self-discovery, second chances and the importance of family are thematic hallmarks of McMillan’s novels, as is the rich and colorful dialogue that make her books so much fun to read. I Almost Forgot About You checks all the boxes for trash talk, steamy sex scenes, lots of laughs and f-bombs galore. By novel’s end, you’ll realize what a clever title McMillan has chosen.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneEnchanted Islands is a many faceted jewel. It's a spy thriller, a survivalist memoir and a portrait of a marriage. It's a story of female friendships — Frances' on-again, off-again relationships with Rosalie and Elke — as well as a fascinating travelogue most likely made more realistic by Amend's travels to the islands. The novel is also a window into what it was like to be Jewish in America in the early 20th century...A great summer read, a fabulous story for all seasons, Enchanted Islands will carry you away.
PositiveThe Washington PostLike ABC’s Modern Family, Modern Lovers celebrates the updated look and feel of familial love and all of its complexities. Straub’s clever and perceptive observations on growing up are gentle reminders that coming of age isn’t just for kids.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneCleave uses these young people to expose human suffering during this terrible time in history, but he encircles all the tragedies in the human heart’s capacity to heal, regain hope and move on. This is a novel that embraces human confidence that life can be patched and sutured to resemble happier times. In the end, Cleave remixes the novel’s title, writing, 'It was a world one might still know, if everyone forgiven was brave.'”
RaveThe Chicago TribuneThis slim, relevant novel, O'Nan's 16th, may be one of his best. Its strength lies in his ability, as always, to take us inside the minds and souls of characters, real or imagined...Through Brand's powerful story, we are forced to feel the weight of the sorrow of generations. O'Nan, writing of the past as he evokes the present, reminds us terrorism is as old as it is new.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneBy book's end, whether Miller's Valley becomes what one of Mimi's neighbors calls a 'drowned town' seems not as important as what happens to its inhabitants and how they remind us of ourselves. Quindlen's provocative novel will have you flipping through the pages of your own family history and memories even as you can't stop reading about the Millers.
PanThe Chicago TribuneRogan's storytelling is multi-layered and many-faceted, but its tempo slogs at times under the weight of political rhetoric ... Maggie is confused. Many readers will be too. Rogan is to be admired for writing a novel so very different in tone and style from her first. The novel's characters ask important questions and challenge the status quo. But somewhere along the way Now and Again loses its power to teach and entertain as it sinks beneath the weight of its politics.
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneSweeney rolls out their lives, exposes their secrets and then, predictably, allows each in his or her own way to discover what's truly valuable in life ... It's well-written but not barrier-breaking and, like a promised financial windfall, may not add up to all you hoped it would be.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe novel’s amusing dialogue enlivens its compelling storyline and is sure to please fans of Downton Abbey ... It may seem at times that Simonson takes too long to move her story from Rye to continental Europe, but when the plot finally drops us into the trenches, the juxtaposition of the villagers’ naivete with the soldiers’ suffering effectively shell-shocks readers.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...a gritty but elegant testament to human resilience despite the lingering pain of childhood trauma.
B. A. Shapiro
MixedThe Washington PostShapiro’s plotting is deft, and the anonymous paintings and Alizée’s disappearance add mystery and intrigue to a tale...But The Muralist, at times, bogs down when Shapiro overworks clichés and resorts to pedestrian phrasing and stiff dialogue.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThere are so few bright spots in the lives of these characters and yet hope endures...Marra's The Tsar of Love and Techno is its own kind of sweet oblivion.