PositiveThe Star TribuneSullivan’s novel is as quaint as a checkered tablecloth in a meadow, and although there are ripples of worry and passion to disrupt the picnic, there are no raging thunderstorms to toss us about. Instead, Sullivan describes small-town life through the eyes of an intelligent, generous narrator who fights off gossip, pettiness and tragedy with compassion, perseverance and forgiveness. Who wouldn’t want to spend a late-summer afternoon or two in the company of such a person?
RaveThe Star TribuneMinnesota native Arthur Phillips writes with such breadth, intelligence and wit one wonders how he’s able to fit his imagination between the covers of a book ... Phillips is back at it, plopping us with his fine prose into a time and place that is shadowy, esoteric and darkly entertaining ... The novel is brilliant—textured, witty and Shakespeare-deep with palace intrigue, lust, conspiracy, xenophobia and Iago-level villainy. Best of all is that Phillips puts us inside the head of Ezzedine, the outsider ... It’s a darkly humorous tale in which compromised people do the dirty work of power-hungry men who peddle in conspiracy and hate.
William Kent Krueger
PositiveThe Star TribuneThis is a picaresque tale of adventure during the Great Depression. Part Grapes of Wrath, part Huckleberry Finn, Krueger’s novel is a journey over inner and outer terrain toward wisdom and freedom ... The ending of the novel is beautiful and surprising and as satisfying as the original Odysseus’ return to Ithaca — although instead of that wayward traveler’s bloody vengeance our hero finds friendship, family and a miracle that makes sense given all that comes before. This is Kreuger’s 20th novel and his first stand-alone story since Ordinary Grace. Like Ordinary Grace, it is a compelling tale told through the eyes of a boy who translates the world in all its beauty and meanness and emerges hopeful on the other side.
J. Ryan Stradal
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... Stradal’s novels are a treat to read. They would pair well with locally sourced heirloom tomatoes or a sample pack of craft IPA. They are that satisfying ... The ending is surprising and understated, which is how we do things in Minnesota. Everything about this book satisfies — from how the characters grow to how beer-making is described to Stradal’s hilarious assessment of lagers vs. IPAs. You may never drink a beer in ignorance again.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe fate of the Vietnam Vet who showed up in Hatchet Inlet with a hospital bracelet from Walter Reed and a penchant for privacy propels Sarah Stonich’s Laurentian Divide like snowmelt down the Temperance River ... Theories of Rauri’s demise are plentiful, plausible and not un-humorous — death by drowning, head injury, propane asphyxiation, environmental terrorism, badger attack — but as speculation flies the locals go about their lives ...There are unresolved plot points in the novel and too many characters to keep track of, but...it’s a treat to return to Hatchet Inlet and revisit characters who continue to face joy and sorrow with a wry resolve that is fetching and funny. But as these characters rail and wrangle — placing bets on Ice Out, debating mining in the Reserve, working custody agreements, hatching business plans — Nature continues to loom: awesome and unchanging, the Great Protagonist.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneMary Sharratt has made an impressive career fleshing out the lives of women rendered one-dimensional in the pages of history ... The emotional vacillating can get tiresome (all these crescendos and decrescendos without a finale), but such is historical fiction — you can’t manufacture narrative arc. The good news is that Alma Mahler-Gropius-Werfel did more with her life after these very vividly fleshed-out years and that Sharratt, with this fine work, has us wanting more.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis collection is no meager response to human grandeur, but rather a celebration of it. Here Robinson debunks the historical myths and political tropes we fall prey to (that capitalism fuels America, for example, or that everything is reducible to a cost-benefit analysis, or that Puritans were pale-faced shamers). Such clichéd thinking, she suggests, only deepens our divisions and denigrates who we are. In essays that challenge our current myopia, Robinson praises our past and our potential. She sheds light. She muses. She quotes great thinkers and poets. She marvels. There is always in these essays the sense of the divine behind every human encounter … Not all the essays are easy. Her ruminations are meandering and deep — ideas river off, etymologies are explored, histories examined. The reader will do well to keep her paddle in the current, for it is well worth the ride.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs any child might be, Onion is ambivalent about his liberation; he's gone from three meals a day and a warm bed to the occasional biscuit and the company of ruffians, particularly the Bible-spewing Brown … As in Huck Finn, this novel comes in through the back door of history, telling you something you might not know by putting you in the heat of the action, which is in the shoes of a kid who disguises himself in order to survive an ugly and brutal time in our nation's history. It is a compelling story and an important one, told in a voice that is fresh and apolitical.
Christina Baker Kline
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneKline alternates chapters, going back and forth in time (from 1896-1948) with riveting effect. We see a young girl struggle with a muscle disease that worsens. We see a teenager fall miraculously in love with a dashing Harvard student who reciprocates that love. We feel the pain and embarrassment when the man jilts her, and we are witness to the sad state of her eventual spinsterhood ... Like Wyeth’s paintings, this is a vivid novel about hardscrabble lives and prairie grit and the seemingly small but significant beauties found there.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneBaker’s observations are a treat to read. It’s good to be in his head, to see the kids, the teachers, the 'six and a half hours of compulsory deskbound fluorescence' through his eyes ... The book is a bit long, but it is a worthwhile and entertaining read for anyone who has ever gone to school or knows anyone in school.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThere’s a lot to love about this novel: the beauty of the wilderness, the tenderness of relationships, the craft. It’s easy to read scenes such as when Gus confronts a bear and think the novel is all outdoor adventure, but it’s more than that. When Harry shoots a doe, orphaning her fawns, the scene suggests Harry’s abandonment by his own mother. And when Harry claims the doe died falling from a cliff, you realize how much he wants to protect his son from sadness ... in the sharing of stories there is healing, if not complete comprehension — and that, it seems to me, is the point and triumph of this novel.