RaveThe Star Tribune... witty ... Finch sketches the manners of this snooty resort town with a Jane Austen-like precision ... I haven\'t read all of the Lenox novels but this is my favorite of those I have read. I\'d enjoy its graceful prose and keen observations even if it weren\'t a dandy mystery. Which it is.
PositiveThe Star TribuneIt feels torn between two editors, shifting non-chronologically from idyllic recollections of an Irish boyhood, alive with nature and church-centered performances, to sardonic stories about showbiz ... It shouldn’t mesh but the In Treatment star is a graceful stylist who candidly describes his sister’s mental illness and his own molestation by a priest while finding elegant connections between childhood longings and adult mistakes.
T. Jefferson Parker
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... a dandy yarn whose pages turn at a Michael Connelly-esque clip ... Parker goes a little heavy on the outsized sexual appeal of his hero but his fast-paced novel contains just enough real-world stuff — domestic terrorism, election chicanery — to make it as unsettling as it is gripping.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneTo be fair about the current occupant of the Oval Office, none of the Stormy Daniels/Miss America anecdotes in Sex With Presidents date to his presidency, so the title is inaccurate in his case. Same goes for the chapters on Gary Hart and Alexander Hamilton, both of whom had plenty of sex without the benefit of a presidency ... Because Herman’s un-footnoted Sex With Presidents is a work of \'popular nonfiction,\' not scholarship, she cuts corners elsewhere, too. Faced with no historical record on what a Hamilton conquest looked like, Herman invents one ... I’m not sure why she declines to call Thomas Jefferson a rapist, since that’s what his treatment of underage, enslaved Sally Hemings amounts to. And Herman seems to confirm 15th president James Buchanan’s long-rumored homosexuality, for instance, but offers no sourcing other than a chapter where she says her stories about presidents have been well-documented elsewhere ... I’m not sure why she declines to call Thomas Jefferson a rapist, since that’s what his treatment of underage, enslaved Sally Hemings amounts to. And Herman seems to confirm 15th president James Buchanan’s long-rumored homosexuality, for instance, but offers no sourcing other than a chapter where she says her stories about presidents have been well-documented elsewhere ... Herman is correct that many readers will have heard these tales, but she tells them with a gimlet eye and a talent for underscoring absurdity. There is value in collecting them the way Herman has, not just for trivia buffs but also for study of the American presidency.
PositiveThe Star TribuneFeeney is forced to do a lot of heavy lifting to set up the unlikely scenario but, once things are in motion, her dazzling ability to twist and twist again is fun to read. Even if you don\'t buy the final switcheroo, you have to hand it to Feeney for daring to give it a go.
MixedThe Star TribuneIn description, Shadowplay sounds like it\'s all about plot but, in reality, it\'s all about sentences so lush you could wrap them around you like a cloak ... lacks narrative momentum because O\'Connor is more interested in crafting passages.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... anecdotal ... in love with its subject ... comic asides are balanced by poetry ... she has a clear, logical style and a reporter’s instinct for telling stories through the people. One of the pleasures of the book is how gracefully Williams shifts between mini-profiles of pioneering butterfly fans and experts, the majority of whom are female or children or both ... It’s a charming, even suspenseful tale, courtesy of the sly cliffhangers with which Williams concludes most chapters.
MixedThe Star TribuneHillary’s life story literally begins when she meets Bill Clinton, launching a passionate relationship described in terms sure to skeeve out many readers ... one difficulty is that the book’s point of view—Hillary’s point of view—is a puzzle. She’s writing in the present, when we know for sure that the real Hillary has a sense of humor, but she depicts herself as a self-serious prude, only growing a sense of irony when she reaches 60 ... Sittenfeld captures both the charisma that made Bill Clinton a national figure and the snake-oil salesman odor that still clings to him. The novelist really hits her stride when Hillary runs for president, under different circumstances than she did in real life ... Sittenfeld’s depiction of Trump is pitch-perfect, giving this witty writer an opportunity for her humor to come through. Sittenfeld also is wise about the nuances of doing work that is always visible/criticizable ... In Sittenfeld’s take, Hillary is an expert judge of character but her fussy voice sometimes rings false ... Maybe the real message of the novel is that the complicated Rodham is impossible to pin down? It feels exactly right to identify Bill’s marriage proposal as a turning point, but I’d be curious for Sittenfeld to explore, as she did in American Wife, how that marriage might have worked. Yes, it’s unfair to ask a novelist to write a different book, but surely the most confounding mystery about Hillary is not \'What might have happened if she left?\' but \'Why did she stay?\'
Witold Szablowski, Trans. By Antonia Lloyd-Jones
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneSzablowski is most interested in the confounding contradictions that make us human ... \'We simply have to trust the cooks,\' Szablowski writes, with the kind of analysis the book could use more of. \'Just as we would trust them if we met them and they cooked for us. We must allow them to tell their stories — and remember them just as they wish to be remembered\' ... Even the book’s structure nods to the precarious existence of the cooks, as well as the relationship of food and power. Its chapters are titled \'Breakfast,\' \'Lunch,\' \'Snack,\' etc.That seems logical in a book about food until you arrive at the last chapter and discover that the titles don’t refer to courses. Those seeming antidotes to hunger are the names of the waves of bombs the U.S. dropped on Cambodia in 1969, secretly trying to carpet-bomb it into submission.
PositiveThe Star TribuneSaunt’s book is both thoroughly researched and quietly outraged ... These events have been well documented but Saunt puts them in broader context ... The scope of Unworthy Republic is enormous ... Saunt so persuasively makes the case that events of the 1830s cost Native Americans a whole lot more than tears.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneZabin begins in Ireland, where women waited to find out if the British army would send them with their husbands to the American colony. Zabin’s research unearths fascinating details about these women, whose stories have not been told: about their fight to stay with husbands they worried they’d never see again and how they adjusted to life in America ... Memorable anecdotes also reveal how crucial the British women were to their country’s efforts ... Zabin’s writing is clear, even witty ... The result is a complex picture of a society where, yes, some were beginning to chafe under British rule but where others were happy to have that protection. Where, yes, officials told wives of the soldiers who were displaced after the massacre that the city was not obliged to provide for them since they weren’t citizens, but where the city ended up caring for some of them, anyway ... Also, we tend to view America as a country on the brink of war in this time period but Zabin finds details and anecdotes that depict Boston as it would have felt then, when there was no such thing as the American Revolutionary War, rather than as it looks to us now. Her Bostonians and Brits-in-Boston don’t think of each other as combatants or enemies of war. They think of each other as neighbors.
Anne De Courcy
MixedThe Star TribuneChanel’s Riviera is best when it remembers Chanel, the Riviera and the pervy excesses that characterize both ... De Courcy offers choice gossip about many...and paints vivid images about how this playground for the rich adjusted when World War II dropped off its calling card ... Chanel emerges as a fascinating and contradictory woman. Plenty of biographers have tried and failed to figure her out, so it’s a smart choice for De Courcy to depict the designer/perfumer’s competing impulses and admit that she’s un-figure-outable. I enjoyed Chanel’s Riviera but, too often, it’s about neither the creator of the little black dress nor her adopted home. De Courcy offers some surprising specifics about the impact of war on the Riviera...but she gets distracted by war stories that have nothing to do with her topic, devoting chapters to the Vichy government and behind-the-scenes maneuvering in Paris. It’s disappointing, too, that Chanel’s Riviera is not illustrated.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...bittersweet, comic ... Elinor Lipman fans will recognize this latter-day comedy-of-manners territory, which has the additional pleasure of letting us watch privileged, clueless aristocrats squirm.
RaveThe Star Tribune... sensational ... The neat trick this National Book Award finalist pulls is to balance the stories of McCullers and Shapland. Each is an outsider who is fascinating on her own but, together, they form a provocative look at what we reveal to the world and to ourselves. The more Shapland learns about the legendary writer, the more she learns about herself and the more readers are apt to question the labels we impose on one another.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs I read Sam Wasson\'s breezy, cocaine-dusted history, roughly two-thirds of which is about director Roman Polanski\'s Chinatown, I kept wondering: How would it be different if Faye Dunaway had agreed to talk? Dunaway, an easy target in recent years, continues to be in Big Goodbye, which emphasizes her tardiness and unpredictability. But, reading between the lines, it\'s hard not to wonder what it was like to be virtually the only woman on set, one whose director disliked her and whose key scene is of her being smacked in the face repeatedly by her co-star, Jack Nicholson. Wasson didn\'t speak with him, either ... And there are other gaps in the book, which bases an analysis of the 1975 Oscars on Cabaret having beaten The Godfather for best picture in 1973 (it didn\'t), which gives Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne\'s ex-wife an oversized role because she agreed to talk and which seems to have been overhauled in editing — so that, for instance, a punchline about Polanski\'s skiing only makes sense when you get to the setup for the joke 50 pages later. Wasson, whose biography of Bob Fosse is riveting, makes interesting observations about 1970s moviemaking, but Big Goodbye reads like a book by a writer/researcher who too often was forced to write around missing material and say, \'Forget it, Jake. It\'s Chinatown.\'
Emily St. John Mandel
MixedThe Star TribuneIt’s in construction, rather than storytelling, where The Glass Hotel falls short. Mandel structures it non-chronologically ... Rather than intriguing us about how seemingly disparate events are connected, Mandel’s book frustrates us because, just when we’re beginning to warm to new characters in a new situation, she introduces a whole new set of characters in another new situation with another new narrator ... Mandel is adept at creating believable dialogue and situations ... The other stuff, though? Yawn ... Mandel’s prose is such a pleasure to read, and I remained curious about her protagonist. But my let’s-wrap-this-up attitude gave way to real delight in the skill with which Mandel brings together themes that have occupied previous sections of the novel, revisiting earlier characters and incidents from surprising new perspectives in a narrative sleight of hand ... Mandel’s conclusion is dazzling, and even though there are moments in the book where you may wonder if it’s going anywhere, The Glass Hotel is absolutely worth checking into.
RaveThe Star TribuneIn this engaging memoir, Cassie Chambers honors her eastern Kentucky mountain roots ... With humility and humor, Chambers tells not just her own story, but those of her parents, grandparents and other kin, as well as those of her clients, women who struggle to get schooling and work, escape abusive relationships and raise their children despite poverty, isolation, the opioid epidemic and a legal system that makes every action and transaction especially difficult ... Chambers\' story is especially effective because she tells it without outrage or indignation, rather with gratitude and pride ... a fine memoir that shines light on an American region far too often denigrated and stereotyped.
Emma Copley Eisenberg
RaveThe Star TribuneI was pretty sure I was going to love Emma Copley Eisenberg\'s true crime/memoir hybrid on page one ... the deal was sealed when it became clear that, in addition to being a thorough reporter and creative thinker, Eisenberg is dryly funny ... The murder Eisenberg investigates is of two women hitchhiking to a 1980 West Virginia be-in. A local bully was convicted of the crime, but Eisenberg\'s gripping account offers a different solution, one rooted in the idea that injustice happens whenever we judge each other too quickly.
RaveThe Star Tribune... dazzling ... an enthralling narrative, grounded in Jai’s growing awareness that fairness does not guide his world and that happy endings are hard to come by.
Kate Winkler Dawson
MixedThe Star TribuneThe latest nonfiction page-turner from Kate Winkler Dawson is really two books, one of which is great ... Blood spatter patterns, fingerprinting, stomach content analysis, specifics of decomposition—Heinrich seems to have been at the forefront of all of it, which Dawson demonstrates in case studies that focus on his splashier work, including failed efforts to nail comic actor Fatty Arbuckle for the death of a starlet ... Less successful are the biographical details Dawson uses in an attempt to explain why Heinrich was driven to bring criminals to justice. As too many stories pile up about, for instance, Heinrich’s spendthrift son, one can almost hear Dawson’s students at the University of Texas parroting her advice: Edit, edit, edit.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneOnce you get accustomed to the lists, it does feel like there’s narrative progression, even suspense ... Dicks is an amusing guy with a feel for life’s little annoyances ... Many of the deliberate repetitions — Daniel’s obsessions with penises and his wife’s laundry habits — are tedious ... You can breeze through a month quickly, or you could just tackle a list or two and call it a night.
MixedThe Star TribuneThere’s a riveting story to be told in Sandworm, but Andy Greenberg hasn’t figured out how to tell it ... One roadblock for Greenberg is helping us understand the enormity of the situation. At least in this country, we’re used to computer viruses being something that are annoying but can be handled with $150 and a trip to the Geek Squad. There’s also the problem of language, since Greenberg is forced to scatter computer terminology (BlackEnergy) and proprietary computer systems (Stuxnet) throughout his prose, and he’s already given to jargony language, anyway ... Where Greenberg does succeed is in scaring the heck out of his readers ... what Greenberg also makes clear is that Ukraine was a test case, and that, as election meddling has already shown, cyberterrorists have everything they need to hack into American government, health care and power grids. Which leaves readers with this unpleasant pair of questions: Which is worse, that terrorists disrupted life in Ukraine for no other reason than to prove they could? Or that they’re already doing the same thing here and we’re not paying attention?
PositiveThe Star TribuneThe best sections of Shannon Pufahl’s episodic debut, On Swift Horses, have the terse impact of Larry Watson’s novels and, like them, it’s an intimate portrait of everyday lives that make violent shifts as a result of one fateful decision ... Pufahl creates a potent sense of place even if the time period, the 1950s, never feels right because the language and openly fluid sexuality of the characters don’t ring true. What does register, though, is the dual protagonists’ yearning, which is as powerful and wild as the mustang that Julius presents to Muriel and that gives On Swift Horses its title.
Ed. by Andrew Blauner
PositiveThe Star TribuneSome of the best pieces come from cartoonists acknowledging their debt to Charles M. Schulz, who preferred to be called \'Sparky,\' the nickname he earned as a child in St. Paul ... Chris Ware...is particularly smart on Schulz’s mastery of comic timing, and he tells a sweet story ... Ann Patchett, who crafts the book’s finest piece, insisting that her time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was nowhere near as valuable as her early exposure to Snoopy’s attempts to write the great American novel.
MixedThe Star TribuneIt\'s called Toil & Trouble but Bait & Switch is more like it. Despite a title that references the cauldron speech in Macbeth, a pre-Halloween release date and marketing that positions it as the book in which Augusten Burroughs comes out as a witch, Toil & Trouble is just barely about witching ... Whatever you want to call the small revenges against enemies and covert attempts to convince his husband to move, they make for an uneventful but amusing book that carves out territory somewhere in between Burroughs\' painful early memoirs and the humorous, domestic essays of David Sedaris.
PositiveThe Star TribuneAmerica\'s entry in the war is still in the future as the book ends but what it lacks in action it makes up for in the cramped, all-in-this-together atmosphere of the camp. When one woman whips open her tent to introduce its martini-swilling residents with, \'Girls, meet the girls,\' Kopp recalls the breezy fun of classic, female-centered movies such as Stage Door.
RaveThe Star TribuneJamison’s essays are united by her insistence that we mustn’t read her as the last word on anything. Should the people she interviews trust her? Should she trust them? Will her attempts to describe subjects be their undoing? These central questions make Jamison’s 14 provocative essays scream and burn ... [Jamison] is compassionate, curious and humble ... Jamison’s self-criticism welcomes us into her book. I can see how it could be irritating, in the way that the half of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius that was about whether Dave Eggers should even be writing the book was irritating. But, in Jamison’s hands, the second-guessing never feels dithery or masturbatory. When she questions her judgment or expresses skepticism about a source, it’s not because she’s unsure if she should be telling these stories. It’s because she’s hellbent on getting them right.
T. Jefferson Parker
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneParker unravels the lies at a briskly entertaining pace. It\'s too bad an editor didn\'t steer Ford away from a few weird generalizations...but when the plot kicks in, involving a cult, a kidnapping and those white supremacists, Parker doesn\'t waste a single word.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe verve and humor of Levin’s writing mirrors the brazenness of the crimes Taylor committed under various false identities ... You can feel Levin’s respect for Taylor’s daring ... Taylor is like a one-person, low-rent Ocean’s 11, and you can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity with which she kept it up for decades. Neither can Levin, who ends virtually every chapter with a cliffhanger, tantalizing us with clues to Taylor’s next big scam ... Levin makes sure that her story is heard and that we know its tragedy, which is that Linda Taylor was doomed from the moment she was born.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe individual stories are sharp portraits that add up to something deeply rewarding ... [a] riveting debut ... Phillips’ writing is spare but canny ... we want to shout at the characters ... Phillips’ work reminded me of Dan Chaon’s...beautifully written fiction that might be called a thriller if it weren’t so clear that none of the devastated characters is the least bit thrilled.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneEither Alice Feeney is messing with us, or the conventions of the Girl/Woman subgenre of unreliable-narrator thrillers is so deeply ingrained that she can\'t help dropping breadcrumbs ... Feeney knows how to keep the pages of this brisk read turning, with a cliffhanger at the end of almost every chapter, and she can insert 10 new twists faster than you can say, \'Roger Ackroyd.\' True, plausibility is not her strong suit, but maybe Know Who You Are is a promise that she\'ll work on that, since its last sentence is \'I never make the same mistake twice.\'
RaveThe Star TribuneA house divided against itself cannot stand, Abraham Lincoln warned us. But a book divided against itself stands up quite nicely in Louis Bayard’s wonderful Courting Mr. Lincoln ... The structure is suspenseful and revealing of the contrasting ways in which two vivid characters see the object of their affection ... Mary Todd...claims center stage ... Stubborn and occasionally impolitic, Bayard’s version of Mary resembles one of Jane Austen’s spirited heroines ... it’s a tribute to Bayard’s entertaining novel that he has imagined a love story for Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln that embroiders the truth but that also fits perfectly with what we know about these very famous figures.
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Winspear’s desire to keep a steady stream of drama coming has in recent years been rough for resourceful Maisie, who has lost a mentor, a husband, a friend and a child in the past few books. But caring for another person seems to be sending Maisie in a direction that’s more fulfilling for her and satisfying for fans of this heartfelt series.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"The faux catalog entries are the best parts of Feast Your Eyes ... Goldberg expertly differentiates the voices of the interviewees who help Samantha figure out who her mother was ... One of the big pleasures of the novel is Goldberg’s uncanny ear, which nails everyone from Grete, a Scandinavian-American friend with a wry sense of humor, to Nina, a bulldozerish gallerist who spearheads an obscenity court battle that overwhelms the increasingly unwilling Lillian and Samantha ... Lillian remains a frustrating character, too obtuse to see the damage she’s doing to her own daughter and too work-obsessed to understand how much she’s harming herself. For most of its length, “Feast Your Eyes” is a fascinating attempt to know a person we suspect is unknowable, but the best approach to reading Goldberg’s book may be to realize from the beginning that its shutterbug subject will forever remain a blur.\
MixedMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Boyle\'s timing is good, with microdosing still a hot topic. But, since his is a \'Gatsby\' story, there\'s only one way this can go. And, with his numerous, dull attempts to visualize the LSD trips that Michael Pollan has recently told us are indescribable and his near-total lack of interest in anything about women except their physical appearances, Boyle hasn\'t figured out how to make these dopes\' grim journey compelling.\
PositiveThe StarTo enjoy The Altruists, you will need to get past the disgusting fact that the wise, witty book was written by someone who was about 27 when he completed it ... Ridker is preternaturally smart about the traps that even bright people set for themselves, he loves his all of his messed-up characters and he finds hopeful-but-not-unrealistic ways for them to live their better, if not best, lives.
RaveThe Star TribuneEvery word of Janet Malcolm’s latest nonfiction collection, Nobody’s Looking at You, is a pleasure to read, even if you have no built-in interest in her topics. The author of \'The Journalist and the Murderer\' comes off like a proponent of the \'Life is short, eat dessert first\' philosophy, placing her snappiest pieces in the first section ... [The essays] show off Malcolm’s way with quick, vivid word pictures...and her gift for the telling detail ... [and] reveal the breadth of Malcolm’s wit and insight[.]
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"... [Heller] leans into the thriller aspect of the tale, with gripping results ... Former Outside magazine editor Heller puts his knowledge of canoeing and currents to fascinating use. He has created indelible characters in Wynn and Jack, pals who are almost exact opposites...\
PositiveMinneapolis Str Tribune\"Since When is a pleasingly scattered series of reminisces, interviews, lists and character sketches by Berkson, who hung out in the 1950s, \'60s and \'70s with scads of poets, artists and other creative types ... Berkson died in 2016 without ever seeming to have needed to earn a living and he can be obtuse about his privilege, as when he blithely asserts that none of his crowd became soldiers because they weren\'t into war. But he has stories about all of the names he drops, ranging from Judy Garland to Larry Rivers (who sketched Berkson) to Leonard Bernstein, and the name-dropping never seems clubby or gross.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Graeber’s writing is swift and clear, as if he can barely contain his enthusiasm for the subject — and, in fact, he can’t contain it ... One or two chapters are weighted down by talk of cell division and the like but, for the most part, Graeber paints vivid portraits of people who have cancer or are trying to conquer it ... The Breakthrough... is a rare and thrilling thing: a hopeful, even inspiring, book about cancer.\
Karen Thompson Walker
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"[Walker] presents even the most heartbreaking details... as if they’re simply the facts of life in stressful times ... But, while Walker is ruthless in insisting that the disease strikes at random (meaning: no, being adorable will not save a newborn), she seems reluctant to make us invest too heavily in any of the novel’s dozens of characters ... Walker writes beautifully about the things that define how a society either endures or collapses in crisis, a theme that may never have been more timely than it is now.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"... a a more soulful, better written entry in the Woman in the Window/Girl on the Train category of domestic thrillers ... [Maurice\'s] His behavior grows more and more reprehensible across several decades and it may not be until you close this devilishly entertaining novel that it occurs to you to wonder if, by continuing to devour his exploits, maybe you were encouraging his villainy.\
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneSue Hubbard’s quiet, gorgeous Rainsongs doesn’t rely on plot — there is not very much to the story — but it is a haunting read nonetheless ... Much of Hubbard’s book is taken up with meticulous descriptions of the land, the weather, the cottage, the terrain, the ocean and the Skelligs in the distance ... So careful is her prose, so beautifully wrought and thoughtful her passages, that the reader is swept along in this...quiet novel about a woman picking her way carefully through loneliness, grief and healing.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"The wisdom of telling Arendt’s story with words and drawings is that — much like Lauren Redniss’ graphic bio of Pierre and Marie Curie, Radioactive — lots of complex information can be packed into one pungent illustration ... And no words could achieve the effect Krimstein does with the recurring outline of a girl, representing someone who haunted Arendt after she failed to save her from the Nazis ... The happiest surprise of Three Escapes is that, despite the often dark subject matter, it’s packed with wit... As a result, it’s a fun and, especially in a final illustration that encapsulates Arendt’s hopes for a better world, inspiring work.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"The fourth, funniest and best of the Miss Kopp books finds Constance Kopp at a crossroads ... Kopp\'s first-person account is wry and un-self-pitying, despite the long odds she faces both at the job and at home, where her quirky sisters are after her to bring home more money and less notoriety. The novel is more interested in characters than plot but it\'s great fun — fans of the Maisie Dobbs series will love it — and a timely reminder that women have been fighting the equity battle for generations.\
PanThe Star TribuneThe title of Sally Field’s memoir, In Pieces ... could just as easily refer to the book itself: chunks that never form a coherent narrative ... Field’s writing is often disorganized and baffling ... But she writes with passion about the day when, after a breakdown on the set of The Flying Nun, co-star Madeleine Sherwood dragged Field to the Actors Studio, to a class for working performers ... The pieces of her life, though, remain puzzling, especially in the memoir’s rushed conclusion, which zips through four decades in fewer than 40 pages ... Like diary entries presented semi-chronologically, the book’s pieces just hang there, especially when it comes to men ... Field...doesn’t explore why she gravitated toward men who used her.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWhy do we make lists? To remember to get Drano or to get Uncle Al a holiday present, for sure, but A Key to Treehouse Living suggests that lists don’t just help us organize our lives. They help us make sense of them ... Elliot Reed’s first novel is presented as if it were an alphabetical, autobiographical glossary, with entries that range from a paragraph to a couple of pages on topics such as Journey Into Deep Space and Podunk Town ... There are many more ominous notes in Reed’s elliptical novel. While supposedly writing about frogs or skipping stones, Tyce makes frequent references to exploited or abandoned children, lawbreaking and betrayal. Gradually, we begin to piece together the story of an unwanted, un-self-pitying child who figured out how to raise himself because nobody else wanted the job. The occasional brush with authorities aside, he has done an improbably good job of it.
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune...[a] charming memoir ... Cunningham comes off as a screwball mix of sophisticate and naif ... He seems to have dished more as a young man than as the elder version, since in the film he doesn’t have a bad word to say about anyone. In the memoir, he calls out designers he thought were coasting (ahem, Christian Dior) ... What Cunningham does not do is reveal himself. A childhood incident, when his mother discovers him wearing one of her dresses and beats the daylights out of him, is the only clue about what the memoirist felt deep inside ... Maybe the best we can hope for is that, somewhere in a trunk above Carnegie Hall, there’s a second volume that will bring us up to date?
T. Jefferson Parker
MixedThe Star TribuneThere’s...vague Islamophobia in Parker’s collection of Saudi and Syrian suspects, every one of whom is defined by the violent events of their lives, but the man knows how to keep the pages turning. Investigator Roland Ford’s client has been threatened with beheading, possibly in retaliation for her part in the drone killing of civilians in Aleppo. Parker keeps quite a few balls in the air, skillfully steering us toward and away from a batch of possible killers while maintaining a twisty, relentless pace. As a result, his Vengeance is swift, indeed.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneMattson\'s wordplay (Noah Body = Nobody) and low-key sarcasm are reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov ... Like much of Nabokov\'s work, Mattson\'s novel is really about language ... Mattson also shares Nabokov\'s gift for precise wit ... Short Film is equally sharp about the way movie critics work ... A Short Film About Disappointment grows wearying in the second half.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune...it’s hilarious and it’s about the travails of people with more money than sense ... deWitt — who bills his delightful novel as a \'tragedy of manners\' — owes more to Edith Wharton than Austen ... DeWitt’s characters behave with the precision and affectlessness of the people in Wes Anderson films ... DeWitt is aiming for farce and to say something about characters who cannot get out of their own way, and he achieves both with élan.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveMinneapolis Star-Tribune\'What if Edgar Allan Poe’s stories actually cared about women, instead of turning all of them into comely, corseted objects of obsession?\' That’s the idea behind most of the six stories in Oates’ new collection ... A few of the stories ask us to identify with a protagonist and then pull a switcheroo, revealing that we’ve chosen to side with someone who’s cooking up a nasty plan ... honestly none of the stories approach the creeping dread of Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, who inspired the title tale. But even when they’re not especially thrilling, Oates’ stories remain insightful meditations on the notion that the real monsters are not zombies or vampires but loneliness, inhumanity and despair.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"Healey makes Whistle fresh and surprising by connecting Lana’s recovery from the trauma of her disappearance to the painful reckoning of her mother, Jen, who is equally lost ... Like her first book, Whistle is a hybrid of psychological thriller and domestic drama with a protagonist whose viewpoint is unreliable and a set of mothers and daughters whose relationships feel complicated and real. Healey is especially sharp on the specifics of the bond between Lana and Jen.\
PositiveThe Star TribuneAs fans know from earlier installments, McKenzie rarely listens to his inner voice, but we get to. Readers are treated to his witty, self-conscious thoughts as he weighs the next dangerous step or tries to talk himself out of a bad move. He usually does it anyway. As is his signature, Housewright strikes a tone that is light on crime and grit but loaded with lighthearted exploits and peppered with Twin Cities references to keep us connected. A pleasure to read.
PositiveThe Star TribuneTapper is a professed history buff who has done copious research, and it shows, often obtrusively. Famous figures of the day (Hey, there’s Jack Kennedy! Look, it’s Lyndon Johnson! That Joe McCarthy can be awfully charming!) wander in and out, and a good chunk of the book feels like leaden exposition for those who never cracked a textbook. The dialogue can be clunky ... And yet you’ll overlook these eye-rollers when the action heats up ... Perfect for an airplane or the beach, The Hellfire Club is a worthy distraction from the real-life news cycle Tapper presides over.
Todd S. Purdum
RaveThe StarTribune\"With a jacket illustrated with a classic Al Hirschfeld cartoon of the dual biography’s subject, Something Wonderful is a thoroughly researched and chatty ... Todd S. Purdum makes elegant use of candid correspondence between the two and others, as well as previously published material, to make us feel like we’re waiting in the wings while masterpieces are created and staged. Although Purdum concentrates on the theater world, he does take side trips to cover the movies, highlighted by the rocky path of Oklahoma to the screen.\
RaveThe StarTribuneHoffman remains a gifted, suspenseful storyteller and, fortunately, both stories are compelling. Tough-talking American art dealer Michael Palmier, who tries to find bargain treasures for museums, reveals his clever methods for spotting fakes. And gonzo Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser is, like Michael Rockefeller, an inspiring individual who allows his passions to overrule common sense. Palmier and Manser may not come together in any meaningful way but another way to look at The Last Wild Men of Borneo is that it's two books for the price of one.
PositiveThe StarTribuneThe first half of Impossible Beauties is wicked fun ... Cassara deftly captures the tough-minded compassion of the performers ... Unfortunately, the tragic second half of Impossible Beauties feels like it’s punishing us for enjoying the first 200 pages. It’s true that many of the real-life characters whose stories Cassara imagines did meet with tragic ends, but those tragedies aren’t earned in a book that doesn’t help us understand why so many of these characters ended up overdosing or getting stabbed in the neck. Reading the book, it feels like the writer is much more interested in the madcap creation of the House of Impossible Beauties than its sordid collapse and, given how much fun it is to read about that creation, who can blame him?
PositiveThe StarTribuneIt’s a good thing the ornate Madness Is Better Than Defeat is studded with sly winks to the reader ... because a road map helps us navigate its daunting journey ... The novel is clever as all get-out, but, as it begins to resemble an attempt to smush four Kurt Vonnegut novels into one, it’s also exhausting.