Colette BancroftColette Bancroft is the book editor of the Tampa Bay Times. She joined the Times in 1997 and has been a news editor, general assignment features writer and food and travel writer, as well as a frequent contributor of reviews of books, theater and other arts. She became book editor in 2007. Before joining the Times, Bancroft was a reporter and editor at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and an instructor in the English departments of the University of South Florida and the University of Arizona. She can be found on Twitter @colettemb
PositiveTampa Bay TimesEleanor Kriseman pulls us right into its young narrator’s world ... she’s a sure-footed guide to the novel’s world, giving Callie a narrative voice whose cool tone and wry humor keep her story genuinely affecting rather than melodramatic ... She has secrets of her own, and Kriseman makes us care about where they take her.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times\"The New Inheritors is the third mesmerizing historical novel by Kent Wascom, all of them set around the rim of the gulf and tracing an American dynasty, a family that begins with a penniless pioneer and, in three generations, accrues great wealth and bloody secrets ... His style and subjects echo great Southern writers like William Faulkner and Harry Crews, continuing a tradition of recounting terrible things in deliriously beautiful language.\
PositiveTampa Bay TimesIf you have never read The Big Sleep, don’t begin by reading with annotations; the notes are excellent but necessarily interruptive ... The notes also address some of the book’s thornier issues for 21st century readers ... A lot of the attitudes that crop up in the book are just as dated — sexist, racist, homophobic. The editors of The Annotated Big Sleep do a fine job of putting them in the context of the historical period and Chandler’s biography, and analyzing what they mean to readers today.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesThere’s a lot going on in The Sinners ... The Sinners has plenty of breathless suspense and explosive violence, but it’s also a funny book. The series has always had its funny moments, but maybe wisecracking Spenser is influencing Quinn, or maybe the wedding lightens things up. This whole novel is laced with humor, much of it mordant and profane.
RaveTampa Bay Times[A] compulsively readable debut novel ... Massey creates a character who is hardly heroic, but always believable ... Crisply paced and stacked with surprises, Massey’s The Girl From Blind River is an impressive debut.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThere [is]...much bitterness and some sweetness to be found in Tommy Orange’s stunner of a debut ... The novel opens with a virtuosic meditation on the old Indian Head test pattern that used to appear on TV screens when TV wasn’t a 24-hour presence (technology’s impact being a recurring theme of the book), a meditation that becomes a searing summary of the history of native peoples since the European incursion. That leads us to the urban Indian ... The complexities of his many characters’ lives merge into a single channel that races toward the powwow and an explosive, heartbreaking finale. Orange gives eloquent voice to Americans too often voiceless.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesCalypso is the most family-centered of his books yet and, although much of it is very funny, it’s also his most melancholy as it addresses aging and loss ... Calypso ranges across a number of other subjects as well, often with Sedaris’ trademark off-center, self-deprecating humor ... But most of the essays deal in one way or another with his family. Sometimes they’re mordantly funny ... But many of them deal, with grief and insight, with his sister and mother ... it’s clear where Sedaris’ storytelling skills come from. \'Her specialty was the real-life story, perfected and condensed,\' he writes [of his mother]. \"These take work, and she’d go through half a dozen verbal drafts before getting one where she wanted it. Over the course of the day the line she wished she’d delivered in response to some question or comment — the zinger — would become the line she had delivered.\" That functions perfectly as a description of what Sedaris does when he shapes real experiences into his stories.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times\" \'An Eden of dangerous things.\' Those last two lines sum up the Florida that provides the setting for most of these 11 finely crafted stories. Groff isn’t much interested in the beaches and theme parks; she’s focused on life beyond the boundaries, physical and emotional. Paradise is no paradise without peril, so every garden must have its snake — especially in Florida ... Some of the stories focus on other characters. \'At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners\' is a virtuoso performance, a man’s life story with as much plot and detail packed into its 15 pages as you’ll find in many novels ... Groff is adept at portraying people in desperate straits, recounting how their humanity is stripped away — but not entirely.\
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times\"The Electric Woman is, among other things, an intimate portrait of a subculture that might be dying but still is vividly enthralling — and sometimes frightening ... The Electric Woman is also a meditation upon the body, how we and others perceive our bodies, what we do with and to them ... Trying to understand what has happened to her mother’s body and mind, Fontaine challenges her own.\
PositiveTampa Bay Times...[a] compelling new psychological thriller ... [Koryta] builds a well-crafted mystery, and in Barrett he gives us a character who’s engaging.
Zora Neale Hurston
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times\"Lewis’ dialect does require some patience from the reader, but it soon becomes familiar. And the story he tells Hurston rewards that patience, although it’s often horrifying and heartbreaking. Hurston doesn’t subtract herself from the narrative; she recounts how she develops a relationship with her sometimes resistant subject, bringing him peaches and hams, helping him work in his garden on days he doesn’t feel like talking. It’s a technique that brings both of them to life in all their humanity, etching all the more sharply the cruelties inflicted on Lewis and all of the enslaved.\
RaveTampa Bay Times\"Tapper is obviously not only a politics addict but a history geek. Fans of such authors as Dan Brown and Brad Meltzer will recognize elements like clues hidden in paintings and old documents, which characters will pause to explicate before getting back to the chases and shootouts that escalate as the book goes on. The politicians in The Hellfire Club spend so much time plotting against each other it’s a wonder they get any work done at all, although maybe that’s realistic ... And the author has some distracting tics — it’s really not necessary to remind us that Margaret is pregnant every single time she’s mentioned. But The Hellfire Club’s fast pace and brio carry the story along. And if, like me, you’re fascinated by our nation’s political history, The Hellfire Club is hot summer reading.\
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...this book reads like a first-rate crime thriller, built on shocking plot twists and vivid characters and evidence of the darkest corners of human nature. But it’s not fiction ... Beneath a Ruthless Sun reveals a story that is horrifying to read but must be remembered. Willis McCall is dead, but the racism he embodied isn’t. Jesse Daniels is still alive. This extraordinary book’s story might have begun more than half a century ago, but it isn’t history.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay Times\"Wright’s eclectic approach to the state combines his personal experiences with Texas history, politics, culture and current events, and the result is a portrait that is always complicated and often surprising ... The future, like that border, is always a moving target, but God Save Texas is a fascinating look ahead through the lens of a singular state.\
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times\"Despite its politics, The Female Persuasion is far from being a polemic. Wolitzer devotes substantial portions of the book not only to Greer’s and Faith’s backstories, but to those of Cory and Zee, Greer’s college friend, all warmly told ... In some ways The Female Persuasion seems very much of the moment, from Greer’s nasty #MeToo moment in college to Loci’s projects to rescue human trafficking victims. But what’s really striking is how nostalgic much of it seems. Although most of the plot takes place no more than a decade ago, it’s lit with the warm glow of an era of progressive politics, when it felt as if feminism, gay rights and other human rights were blooming, if not fully realized then on the path.\
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times\"In Aminatta Forna’s splendid new novel Happiness, the tension between wildness — animal and human — and control is a central issue for the two main characters ... She brings a cosmopolitan world view and a beautiful prose style to this novel, as well as deep insight into how we connect and adapt to the world, or don’t.\
Luis Alberto Urrea
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesA man dying of cancer plans his own 74th birthday party. Then his mother dies and he has to hold her funeral on the same weekend. That might not seem like a setup for a warmly hilarious novel, but The House of Broken Angels is, delightfully, just that ... Although they’re set in different times and cultures, The House of Broken Angels reminded me often of Eudora Welty’s lovely debut novel, Delta Wedding. Set in 1923 at the Mississippi home of the enormous Fairchild family, Delta Wedding has the same tone of rollicking chaos, masterful storytelling and deep affection for its countless characters that Urrea’s novel has ... a rich array of poignant moments and funny ones ... There is darkness, too, as confessions are made, secrets revealed.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesIt’s an explicit salute to Cain — at one point one of its main characters takes certain inspiration from the classic film versions of Postman and Indemnity — and a more than worthy one ... It’s tough to say very much about Sunburn without risking spoilers, and this book deserves not to be spoiled. It’s a virtuoso performance of crafting plot, point of view and voice to reveal some things to the reader while withholding others to create a decadent, delicious tension.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times\"Bloom chronicles this complex affair, and in Hick, who narrates the book, she creates an engaging, poignant, self-aware character who’s a delight to spend time with ... Bloom paints their happy times warmly, but she is just as deft at showing us Hick growing older, feeling her losses but still as self-sufficient as those carnival freaks: \'I have been lonely in my life but never when drinking strong coffee, wearing my fleecy slippers, and standing in my own kitchen.\'\
PositiveTampa Bay TimesIn The Chateau, the stakes are a little less life and death, but Goldberg brings a similar brand of zany, absurdist humor laced with dark social commentary.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesPost has a real knack for creating a complex plot that maintains its drive through sweat-slicked settings that range from raucous Daytona Beach strip clubs to the kind of lonesome roads where nothing good happens. She’s also adept at making us care about characters who in other fictional settings might be the bad guys. When Ramey says unhappily, 'I just held a gun on a man while he ate a Power Bar. Tied up. In my garden shed,' we feel for her.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesIn This Could Hurt, the mordantly funny new novel by Jillian Medoff, those people are far more than faceless numbers. Set in 2010, at the nadir of the Great Recession, the book focuses on the staff of the human resources department at Ellery Consumer Research, a midsize company headquartered in Manhattan ... Medoff, who has a long career in management consulting in addition to her work as a writer, paints her characters’ work life in sharp detail. She also warmly sketches their personal lives, as parents and children, husbands and wives, and especially in their friendships with one another ...in This Could Hurt, Medoff tells a tale that suggests that even in the worst of times, there really are human resources.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay Times...pare but not slight, surreal yet stoic, an intriguing and moving glimpse into what falls away and what still matters at the end ... The watcher fades, or is absorbed. The watched man is reticent about his disease, but near the end he does tell us he misses being able to scratch his dog’s belly, scratch his own eyebrow. 'One year ago exactly he could drive across the great divide. He could drive down the coastline. The rugged coast. He could yawn at the desert. One year ago exactly more or less, he could walk with his head up.' With Spy of the First Person, Shepard exited head up.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesNot every story here is strictly a ghost story; in fact, one of the most satisfying surprises in this collection is Hill's fluent, confident crossing of genre lines. There are horror stories, but you'll also find realism, surrealism, romance and even a grisly take on Kafka's The Metamorphosis … Not all is sweetness here. Some of the stories are truly chilling.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesWe live in the age of the hoax. Believe me. And if you don’t believe me, believe Kevin Young, author of the sometimes disturbing but always fascinating new book Bunk … Young takes a sweeping, erudite look at the long and astounding history of his subject in American culture — positing that faking it might indeed be an essential part of that culture … The very idea of race is bunk, Young points out … Given Young’s meticulous research and transparent sources, it must have pained him to write, ‘What Trump really heralds is a time when there are no more experts.’
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesErdrich’s dystopia in Future Home inevitably calls up comparison with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, especially when that fine novel has seen a renaissance in print and on screen this year. There are similarities, but Atwood paints a world where the enslavement of women is accomplished fact, where a theocratic dictatorship has established order and handed out the uniforms. Erdrich focuses on an earlier stage in that process, the frightening historical moment when the old order collapses but only disorder has so far emerged in its wake. She skillfully conveys the cold dread that permeates a world where every assumption is undermined and anyone could be a betrayer.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe Portrait of a Lady was a psychological novel, focused on its characters’ inner lives, and the same is true of Mrs. Osmond. Long conversations and introspection make up most of the plot, although Isabel occasionally does something decisive … Banville does an impeccable job of re-creating James’ prose style and moving his characters forward in believable ways. As Mrs. Osmond progresses, his wicked sense of humor emerges more, and he adds twists to the plot James would have cloaked in reticence.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesOn one level, Paris in the Present Tense is a caper, like The Sting, in which Jules comes up with an intricate and clever way to make his death pay off, quite literally. It’s also a bit of a romance, as he falls instantly and hopelessly in love (despite his devotion to Jacqueline) with a student named Élodi who is half-a-century his junior. Helprin’s style, however, elevates the story with sumptuous descriptions and complex characters whose conversations sometimes become analyses of such issues as anti-Semitism or meditations on the nature of music, time and love.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesIf you're a fan of Boston private eye Spenser, Little White Lies will keep you eagerly turning the pages to follow his latest adventures in the mean streets ...the 45th book in the series about Spenser created by Robert B. Parker, and the sixth one written by Ace Atkins, who was selected to continue the series after Parker's death in 2010 ...opens with a referral from Spenser's longtime love, Susan Silverman, who sends a patient from her therapy practice to him for a different kind of help ... Spenser's closest comrade, the enigmatic and invincible Hawk, plays a major role in Little White Lies ... In lighter moments, Atkins continues Parker's tradition of detailing Spenser's love for good food and drink... Before you crack open Little White Lies, lay in some doughnuts and pour some Blanton's neat, water back, just like Spenser likes it.
Stephen King & Owen King
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesSleeping Beauties is the first published collaboration between father and son. Whatever the co-writing process might have been, it produced a seamless, scary and satisfying story ... In Sleeping Beauties, the dynamics of male-female relationships are at the core of the disaster. What the men left behind must do is interpret what Aurora means. What caused the outbreak? What happens to the women while they sleep? Will they ever return? And what will happen if they do? ... Sleeping Beauties has myriad subplots, all reverberating with that theme of gender relationships, and a large cast — the character list at the beginning of the book is 3 ½ pages long. But the Kings keep all that machinery running fast and smooth, creating an all-too-credible picture of a world engulfed by a disaster for which absolutely no one is prepared ... Despite its 702 pages, I rushed through it headlong. Next time you're looking for a way to distract yourself from a potentially apocalyptic hurricane, try a totally apocalyptic novel. It worked for me.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesStarting with the vanity license plate that forms its title, Joe Hill's NOS4A2 is one of the creepiest books I've read in a long time — and I mean that in a good way … He paces the story skillfully with humor, including literary jokes, some of them familial — Maggie's paperweight is a prop pistol marked ‘Property of A. Chekhov,’ and an eerie map includes the Pennywise Circus in Maine. And don't think he's done when he gets to the acknowledgements. That boring last page many books have called ‘A Note on the Type’? In NOS4A2, it's a chiller.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesAmor Towles' sleek debut novel, set in the glittering and gritty New York City of 1938, nods smartly to Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Henry Thoreau, James Fenimore Cooper — and borrows its title from George Washington — yet makes something fresh out of those familiar materials. Chief among the novel's influences is Fitzgerald; Rules of Civility is in many ways a riff on The Great Gatsby, complete with a wealthy but elusive hero, an unattainable golden girl and a car crash. And just like Nick Carraway, Towles' narrator, Katey Kontent, becomes as intriguing as the more boldly drawn characters she describes to us … Towles has a lovely way with language and a deft wit, and his characters are that rare thing, both convincing and surprising.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesAlthough the central event of the novel's plot is the disastrous nonconsummation of their marriage, McEwan isn't here to tell us a smutty joke. The couple's ignorance of their own and each other's sexual needs is a symptom, not a punch line. And, far from being a relic of a quaint past, it's as contemporary as a misunderstood text message … McEwan reveals deftly how, despite their differences, the two fill holes in each other's emotional lives...McEwan understands those emotional dynamics, but Edward and Florence don't. They are in love with their ideas of each other, and when the first truly bad thing happens between them, they retreat back inside their own heads. Standing on the stones of Chesil Beach, neither can reach out to touch the real person standing there.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesTeddy may get just one lifetime, but Atkinson does not deliver it in linear, chronological fashion. The novel moves freely — sometimes from one sentence to the next — across almost a century and four generations of the Todd family, from Teddy's parents, stalwart Hugh and dramatic Sylvie, to his grandchildren, the hapless boy Sunny and Bertie, the sweetly sensible girl whom Teddy considers ‘his legacy, his message to the world’ … Atkinson does a skillful job of interweaving history and fiction. Even more impressively, she combines brilliantly rendered traditional narrative and warmly believable characters with a postmodern sense of the nature of fiction, the story aware of itself as story. (Just wait for her ending flourish.)
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesIn Rushdie's hands, that actual place becomes a magical one, a setting for intrigue and tragedy ... In The Golden House, Rushdie skillfully mashes up all manner of mythic, literary and pop culture tales. One of the great pleasures of his fiction is sailing upon the sea of stories he has such mastery of and discovering what forms he will shape it into ... Not all myths are created equal, though. Some are rich and complex and show us what it truly means to be human; others are debased and coarse and perhaps shape our world in ways we should be wary of. Often in the world of myth, disorder within a powerful family is a symptom of greater disorder in the world at large, and that's certainly the case in The Golden House.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe story Nella begins to decipher from them and from other mysterious objects, such as a passionate love note hidden in Marin's room, grows more ominous by the day. She comes to realize that she has married into a family with immense power and wealth...yet even they can find themselves in peril when privilege collides with puritanism … The Miniaturist is an impressive debut, though not a perfect historical novel. In particular, Nella, although an engaging character, seems perhaps too sophisticated, too modern for her era and background. But Burton has created a world that, like the cabinet house, draws us in until we feel the dread and mystery and wonder that surround Nella.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesBright and restless, Dellarobia is painfully dissatisfied with her life but doesn't know what to do about it; she can't even consider leaving her beloved two kids, kindergartener Preston and toddler Cordelia. But she is marching up the mountain behind her house, on the way to meet a man she's been flirting with, when she's stopped in her tracks by a miracle … Flight Behavior deals in large issues, but Kingsolver addresses them on the personal level. In this book, climate change is not just something politicians and pundits argue over, but something that blasts the neighbors' peach orchard and threatens the Turnbows' sheep. Its economic complexities are painfully real.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...a harrowing story of child abuse that spirals into madness and violence. It's a terrific book, beautifully written and emotionally gripping ... My Absolute Darling is a strange hybrid of a book, part gorgeous nature writing, part psychologically astute family drama, part action-movie extreme violence. It is not a novel for the faint of heart, but it's a story that needs to be told, and Tallent tells it unforgettably.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesIn Thank You for Your Service, Finkel follows some of those soldiers home. As harrowing and heartbreaking as the [The Good Soldiers] was, the second may be more so, because it focuses on those for whom the war doesn't end with homecoming — and that is a very large number of soldiers … Rather than focusing on the numbers or the politics they are entwined with, Finkel tells the stories of the soldiers themselves and the families they come home to (or don't). His reporting is astonishingly intimate yet utterly respectful, taking us inside the hearts and minds of these men and their families.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times…[a] crafty, pedal-to-the-metal story of love, revenge and the devil in the details of both … Baffled Ig quickly discovers that the horns have peculiar powers. Other people seem to not really see them, yet when he's near they begin talking without inhibition about their dark secrets … Horns is not only scary, it's insightful, often funny and sometimes sweetly romantic.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times…[a] knowledgeable and charming book … There's much more to enjoy here, in chapters about Beatrix Potter and Beverly Cleary, L. Frank Baum and E.B. White. Even if you're a parent at the point of thinking the thousandth reading of Goodnight Moon might just drive you crazy, Wild Things can show you something new in it.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe Cuckoo's Calling was very good crime fiction; The Silkworm is even better. There's a real sense of Rowling enjoying herself, and that might well be a result of its setting: London's publishing world, which she satirizes gleefully … Rowling opens each chapter with a quote from a Jacobean revenge play, a particularly grisly genre, and The Silkworm makes clear revenge is still a fresh and forceful motive. Love is also a force, and not just among the suspects … But the mystery, twisted as Quine's book, drives The Silkworm.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...the cloak of invisibility has been slipped off J.K. Rowling, we know that she wrote The Cuckoo's Calling ...as an avid reader of crime fiction, is: pretty darn good ... The Cuckoo's Calling is clearly meant to begin another series, a sign that although the multimillionaire Rowling doesn't need to write another word, she can't help herself ... The plot takes a number of skillful turns, no surprise given that the Harry Potter books have strong mystery elements ...have to say that Strike, who's described as 'massive; his height, his general hairiness, coupled with a gently expanding belly, suggesting a grizzly bear,' reminded me not a little of Hagrid. And Robin's chipper resourcefulness has the ring of Hermione Granger.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesLaura Shapiro's fascinating new book, What She Ate, takes a 'you are what you eat' approach to biography .. Delving into written records — diaries, newspaper articles, cookbooks and more — Shapiro finds meaning in every morsel.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesMoving away from the magical realism of many of his recent novels, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage recalls some of the elements of Norwegian Wood. Its title character, at age 36, looks back on his youth and painful events that changed his life forever... Tsukuru's pilgrimage will lead to a shocking revelation, one that only becomes more dismaying as each person adds details to its recounting ... Dreams, too, play an important role — erotic dreams, frightening dreams, frightening erotic dreams — and those dreams sometimes leak into Tsukuru's waking life ... Full of melancholy and loss, it is nonetheless beautiful, rich with moving images and lush yet exquisitely controlled language, reverberating, like that piano music Tsukuru cannot forget, with elusive emotion.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesSarah Schmidt's debut novel is a terrifically dread-inducing, claustrophobic, nightmarish immersion in a fictional version of one of the most famous crimes in American history ... Schmidt turns those facts about the case into a tense psychological study of family dysfunction, painted with a vividness bordering on the hallucinogenic. The reader is drawn into a house that feels as if it is slowly strangling its inhabitants ... Schmidt skillfully manages the challenge of writing about a historical murder case by introducing elements that make us doubt what we think we know ... I don't know whether many authors invite such haunting by their characters, but in Schmidt's case it led to a gripping and accomplished novel. Readers of See What I Have Done may feel haunted by Lizzie Borden, too.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times\"Mrs. Fletcher boasts Perrotta\'s well-honed blend of sharp social observation, deadpan humor and characters the reader cares about even when they behave badly. When he zeroes in on that bad behavior, he\'s not a Puritan clucking at dirty pictures; he\'s a writer exploring the effects of a force that can isolate human beings rather than bring them together.\
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesQuinn has a rigorous work ethic, a bone-dry sense of humor, an Elvis-loving mama, a sister with a troubled past, a cool dog named Hondo, a checkered romantic history and a fondness for bourbon and cigars. (Really, why isn't there a movie yet?) ... Quinn stays so busy with all that he hardly has time to pursue Maggie Powers, a childhood friend who's just returned to Jericho and is striking sparks with the sheriff. But he'll discover just how many of those separate threads of plot tie together, and in what disturbing ways. And once again he'll realize how handy Lillie's sharpshooting skills can be.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe most intriguing mystery in The Late Show is Ballard herself. Connelly is too skillful to hand us her resume in one document dump; instead, he fills out her portrait with a subtle hand over the course of the novel, a little background here, a glimpse of her temperament there, the revelation of her unusual living conditions sketched in between ... By the end of The Late Show that portrait is fleshed out and fascinating, but there's still plenty we don't know about Ballard, and that I'm looking forward to finding out.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...Life After Life is flat-out magnificent, a virtuoso performance that had me slowing down in the last chapters because I didn't want it to end — then speeding back up because I had to know what would happen ...less reincarnation, in which souls move on to new bodies and lives, than Groundhog Day — except that Ursula lives her whole life over, not just a day ... Ursula is, in every version of herself, engaging — smart, practical, quietly brave, self-effacing but independent ...Atkinson's trademarks is the multilayered, complex plot full of startling twists. Life After Life is a turbo-charged version of that...has often stunningly beautiful prose, wry humor and heart-wrenching emotion, deeply human characters and enduring mysteries, and, above all, brilliant storytelling that will propel you through every one of Ursula's lives.
PanThe Tampa Bay TimesI had a hard time stomaching Celeste Price...It's not that Celeste is a self-absorbed, colossally vain, amoral, sociopathic sexual predator of children, though she is. It's that I got bored with her … Celeste seems to have no past nor any interest in anything besides herself and her appetites. And she couldn't care less what the reader or anyone else thinks of her. One of her chief character traits is utter disdain for everyone except, very temporarily, her victims … Tampa has one focus: shocking sex — and it's not easy to be shocking these days. It doesn't bother with much of anything else, like setting, plot or character development (unless you count Celeste getting even meaner).
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesMatthiessen did not just paste his original version back together...The rewriting begins in the second paragraph and ranges from micro — a phrase tuned even more finely, a dying man's words cut from two sentences to one — to macro: The second of the book's three portions, corresponding to Lost Man's River, has undergone major changes and been slimmed … Both new readers and fans of the earlier Watson books will find a fresh and fascinating novel … Most of the book is set in frontier Florida, a Florida virtually unimaginable in our air-conditioned, subdivided century…Shadow Country takes us there in unforgettable fashion. Even among a body of work as magnificent as Matthiessen's, this is his great book.
Stieg Larsson, Translated by Reg Keeland
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe brilliant, damaged, fearless young hacker who was the title character of the international bestsellers The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire returns for the third (and, alas, last) time in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest ...takes off pedal to the metal, directly from the harrowing finale of Fire in which Salander, having been shot and buried in a shallow grave, dug herself out and went after her lifelong enemy with an ax ... somewhat less kick-butt action than the previous books, with more of the story unfolding in courtrooms, boardrooms and newsrooms ... Hornet's Nest doesn't seem to have been written as a finale — there are many loose ends left in Salander's story, and the ending is, if not the cliffhanger of Fire, a new emotional frontier.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesHunger recounts not just how Gay became obese but how the world treats her because of what she calls her 'unruly body.' She writes piercingly about everyday humiliations, small and large. She writes about the determined exercise and dieting that help her take off substantial amounts of weight — and about the ways she puts it back on ... Hunger is not an easy book to read; Gay tells us it was excruciatingly difficult to write. But her ferocious, unstinting intelligence addresses this topic in a way rarely seen. What she gains, she tells us at the end, is a measure of catharsis. What we gain is seeing not a fat person, but a person.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThere are set pieces reminiscent of Charles Dickens and nods to Arthur Conan Doyle and other Victorian writers in The Essex Serpent, but Cora's literary foremother is Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. She shares Jane's fierce independence and disdain for the expectation of feminine vanity ... Perry borrows much of her style and structure from Victorian gothic and romance novels, but infuses it all with a decidedly 21st century sensibility. Like our own, the Victorian era was a time of enormous social and cultural upheaval as well as rapid technological and scientific change. Perry weaves all of those elements into the lives of her engaging, often surprising characters to tell a story of new science and old magic and the ever-restless human heart.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesHue 1968 will burnish that reputation and is likely to claim a place on the shelf of essential books about the Vietnam War. Based on hundreds of interviews, news accounts, histories and military archives, the book combines intensive research with Bowden's propulsive narrative style and insightful analysis ... What sets Bowden's account of the battle apart is his skill at moving from the macro — the history of the war, the politics surrounding it, the tactics of the battle — to the micro ... Hue 1968 is a book of history, the history of an era when a nation was lied to by its leaders and thousands of young Americans in uniform were sacrificed for no clear reason. Bowden brings that history to life — and makes clear how painfully timely it remains.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness is worth the wait ... For many American readers, the details of politics and wars in India in the last several decades will be hazy at best. In a way, that won't matter. Roy is writing powerfully about specific wars but also about all wars, which inevitably blur together in their pointlessness, violence and waste of blood and treasure ... The world may be stunningly, absurdly cruel to her characters, but Roy is always tender with them. Despite the novel's often harrowing events and the difficult lives of many of its characters, it brims with lush description and humor of the most affectionate kind. Roy brings her large cast to life so vividly that when she zooms off from the main plot to fill us in on a minor character's back story it's a delight, not a delay.
RaveTampa Bay TimesWhat an exhilarating, aching, mind-blowing dance to the music of time this book is. Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad mashes up experimental technique with rock-solid realism to create a book that is at once a joyful blast of youth and an unsettling evocation of that universal phenomenon of middle age: Wait a minute, how the hell did we get old?
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times[There is] an opener worthy of Raymond Chandler or James Cain, and the rest of this novel — a sleek thriller that, despite its turbocharged pace, explores the nature of love and evil — is just as gripping ... Since We Fell feels distinctly cinematic. Its dialogue is crisp and often darkly funny, its characters vividly drawn, its plot a tightening wire of well-crafted suspense ... Suffice it to say that anyone who has read Mystic River or Shutter Island knows that questions of identity, memory and reality have long been Lehane's raw material — and that, along with being one of the best crime fiction writers in the business, he's also an adept, insightful chronicler of romance.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...[a] richly resonant new book ... Having read My Name Is Lucy Barton will certainly enrich your understanding of this book, but it's not necessary — these stories stand on their own ... Shame is a nearly universal motive in Anything Is Possible, which addresses class in a way that's rare in American fiction.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesSunshine State, her new collection of essays, is animated by the awareness of a native who knows Florida, for better and for worse, and wants to get at the truths inside the cons ... Florida is often played for laughs in literature, but Gerard knows it too well to do anything that simple. The shadows bring depth to Sunshine State.
Jack E. Davis
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesJack E. Davis, it seems, had as many questions about the gulf as there are sand grains on a beach (mostly quartz, washed down over millions of years from faraway mountaintops, plus finely ground shell) or feathers on a snowy egret (one of many bird species nearly wiped out by the plume hunters of a century ago, now happily recovered). He has answered a tide of those questions in his splendid new book ... The bulk of the book focuses on the gulf coasts of five U.S. states in the 18th to 21st centuries, and Davis brings that history alive by couching it in the stories of individual people ... Davis is a historian, and this book is packed with research, but The Gulf does not read like a textbook. He is a graceful, clear, often lyrical writer who makes sometimes surprising, always illuminating connections.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesHis formal innovation, beautiful use of language and signature blend of postmodernism and surrealism are compelling — but what really resonates in his fiction is its deep sense of empathy, even for the strangest of characters in the most bizarre situations. Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel, is a showcase for all of those qualities ... I rarely read a single book straight through, because I'm always shifting among several. Lincoln in the Bardo was an exception, because I couldn't put it down, reading it in a single afternoon ... Saunders is a satirist and a masterful comic writer, but he is up to something deeper as well. Lincoln in the Bardo is a virtuoso show of surrealism, but it also lets us, along with its ghosts, feel what is in the heart of a father who has lost his boy — and who must face the responsibility of sending countless other boys to battle. It is, finally, a human story, no matter which side of the veil those humans are on.
Timothy B. Tyson
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesTyson's account of the times helps the reader to understand the climate in which Till's murder occurred. The early stirrings of civil rights grew as black veterans returned from World War II unwilling to accept the old racist hierarchy ... Carolyn Bryant's confession adds yet another layer of tragedy and irony to Emmett Till's story. Tyson reminds us that it's a story that is not over. Young black men still die for no good reason, no reason at all ... Just as Mamie Bradley's decision shone essential light on what happened to her son, so does this book.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...in these stories, [Gay] writes fearlessly and with insight about love and power between men and women, about the horror of sexual violence and its inescapable aftershocks, about the fierce and flawed tenderness of mothers for their children ... 'Strange Gods' is a heartbreaking, powerful tale of betrayal and assault and the long-lasting effects — and the courage it takes to live with them.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...[an] engaging, revealing biography ... 72 years after his death Herriman and Krazy Kat are a footnote in our popular culture. Tisserand's book just might change that by bringing back into the conversation not only Herriman's remarkable artistic creation but his extraordinary, very American life story ... As befits its subject, Krazy is a gorgeously designed book. It incorporates not only dozens of Herriman's cartoons (Krazy Kat and many others) but elements in page design and numbering that reflect his style ... Whether you're a longtime Krazy Kat fan, as I am, or a new acquaintance, this biography will enrich your knowledge of the Kat and its creator.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesMoonglow is a marvel of melancholy enchantment, the story of one man's life seen, as its title suggests, through last lingering light before darkness. But it's as rich and strange as any dream ... In this novel, told in a voice droll and tender and sometimes dark, in language as lovely as its title, Chabon makes those secrets into riches for readers.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesConnelly is an old hand at weaving together several major plots. The two he creates in The Wrong Side of Goodbye are just the kind of plots that make the Bosch books so irresistible: They combine the procedural, with its emphasis on the detail-oriented mechanics of investigation, with engaging human stories to which both Bosch and the reader connect. Sometimes an investigation turns on something as small as a still-warm bag of fast food or that solid-gold pen; sometimes what leads Bosch to the truth is his talent for seeing into the human heart, for good or ill.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe narrator's wry voice, mostly sharply self-aware but occasionally painfully not so, is just one of the strengths of Swing Time. Smith creates a large cast of convincing, vivid characters and moves them through a plot that finally partners the two timelines of the narrator's life, bringing all those dancing shadows together. It's a story that's surprising, sometimes shocking, but filled with energy and grace.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesMacy puts their story into its larger historical context, giving the reader an understanding of the virulent, often violent racism of the Jim Crow era, which affected the Muse family deeply. She also provides a fascinating history of the circus ... Macy also offers an understanding of people like the Muse brothers that goes beyond our contemporary tendency to dismiss their plight as a relic of the past.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesLeavitt gets the reader inside Lucy's head so that we understand the mixture of rebellion and desire that makes William's plan so enticing ... Leavitt builds her story around characters who are warm and engaging but very much flawed. The 1960s setting provides a few unsettling details that murmur in the background — the Manson murders, the Kent State shootings — but this is essentially the timeless story of a family, one that's unorthodox and fractured but rings emotionally true.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe book is an affirmation that, along with his musical brilliance and matchless performance skills, the man is a terrific storyteller and writer ... Much more than most celebrity autobiographies, this one has a distinctive voice, and one that bears a wide range of literary influences.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay Times...[a] rollicking new book ... Hiaasen sets all those plots spinning and then whirls them closer and closer to one another. Will Buck make it back home, and will Coolman keep his job? Will Blister get a role on Bayou Brethren? Among Trebeaux, Brock and the actual rats, who will survive?
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesFinley is a believable 20-year-old, often impatient, sometimes too confident for her own good and careless about consequences, but smart and open to the ever-stranger experiences the case brings her, despite her skepticism about her own powers. Ink and Bone takes the reader into dire places, but into the light as well. And Finley? My psychic vibes predict she'll be back.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesIn Rise the Dark, Koryta again constructs a hold-your-breath thriller around believable characters and the bonds, familial and romantic and ideological, that bind them. It's a wild ride, and if you're out West, you might never want to drive over a cattle guard again.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesThis brilliant, elegant novel is a ruthless and moving look at America's original sin ... blends historical fiction with magical realism to create a striking, beautifully crafted novel.
J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesAs a reading experience, Cursed Child has much to recommend it. The characters are vividly drawn, and the plot is full of great twists yet consistent with the earlier stories ... Cursed Child might not be quite a magical as Rowling's novels, but it's enough to hold me until I find a spell for putting one of those [play] tickets into my hand.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesToobin skillfully enlarges and deepens the story I remembered, filling in gaps with material that will be new to many readers ... American Heiress may never quite get us inside Patricia Hearst's head, may not definitively answer the question of whether her conversion was real or a survival tactic. But this book certainly gives us a panoramic picture of her times and a gripping, insightful account of her place in them.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...a deeply researched, fascinating and even-handed biography of an enormously complex figure ... Geltner doesn't flinch from the dark side of Crews' character. He details how often the author's drinking and drugs derailed his classes and public appearances, how many friends spent enormous amounts of time and patience looking after him, how often Crews got into physical fights (and, Geltner notes, usually came out on the losing end; a lifetime list of his injuries occupies nearly a third of a page) ... On the page and in the flesh, Crews was a controversial figure, and Geltner gives us the rough edges. Crews was as improbable as many of his characters, and so was his success.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesHe melds his personal experiences of some of the globe's wildest places with incisive analyses of history, culture, politics and more, crashing the postcolonial hangover into future shock to see what sparks it sets off ... The book's title piece [is] a rip-snorting adventure yarn about traveling to the mind-boggling elevations of the Himalayas ... Some of the book's shorter pieces are fascinating, deeply researched journalism ... Shacochis' accounts sometimes boom with macho swagger, but it's balanced by wry self-awareness, a tender heart and a brilliant, analytical intellect. His writing is simply splendid.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesProulx's delicious prose is often at its most vivid when she's writing about the harshness of frontier life and the tremendous dangers of its occupations, and that's certainly true of this book ... Barkskins has a large cast — there are four pages of family trees in the back of the book — but that's a showcase for Proulx's gift for creating lively, complex characters. Even minor characters get memorable descriptions ... As the decades passed, I often found myself wishing to know more about one character or another, but the author braids all those people and all their plot lines together so skillfully that the book becomes a satisfying whole. Proulx's style is inimitably her own, but it echoes here with those of great influences: Dickens, Melville, Twain, Faulkner and more.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesSurreal, sometimes disorienting and sharply emotionally resonant, it is a beautifully written distillation of the experience of shocking loss ... its shifting forms, its beak-by-jowl juxtapositions of the quotidian and the hallucinatory, render perfectly the bafflement of extreme grief, which can never be anticipated, only survived ... literary allusions enrich Grief, but it stands without them as well — the reader need not ever have heard of Dickinson or Hughes to feel its emotional dive and soar. It's a novel about grief that in some ways mocks the traditional novel about grief.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesKing wrote the first two books of the Hodges Trilogy as straight crime fiction, without major paranormal or supernatural elements. This time around, the powers Brady develops go beyond that realistic territory, to chilling effect. King, who has occasionally been dinged by fans for not offering enough explanation for how some of his fantasy elements work, is careful in End of Watch to walk us through exactly how Brady came to be an even more formidable threat than he was before the brain injury. It's fantasy, sure, couldn't really happen. But, as always, King creates such a compelling scenario that it will leave you wondering. And maybe rethinking your kid's video games.
PositiveTamp Bay TimesLaRose fits like a carefully cut quilt piece into the world of Erdrich's fiction...[which] is woven from some of the darkest, bloodiest threads of the history of the collision of indigenous and European cultures — and from the bright beauty of the bonds of tradition, family and friendship that the survivors share.
RaveTampa Bay TimesAs good as Russo was in 1993, he's even better now. And Everybody's Fool is a delight...In the novel's two-day time span, there will be enough bizarre events, startling revelations, unlikely heroes and touching moments to supply a dozen small towns. Although Everybody's Fool, like all of Russo's fiction, is driven by engaging and believable characters, he is also a master of plotting, from cliffhangers to twists that deftly link apparently unrelated threads. This book's tone is largely comic, but Russo writes with uncommon insight about love, families and friendship.
RaveTampa Bay Times...The Veins of the Ocean is [Engel's] best yet...Reina's own voyage toward freedom is never smooth sailing, but Engel makes it a worthy trip, filled with fascinating characters and beautiful prose.
RaveThe Tampa Bay Times...a riveting, wide-ranging but detailed account of Katrina's immediate impact and its aftermath, as a city that has long been one of America's cultural jewels struggles to repair not only its infrastructure but its social fabric.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesThe author brings special strengths to the recounting of Brown's life ... yields an illuminating portrait of Brown and the culture that rewarded and rejected him.
RaveTampa Bay TimesIn Dana Spiotta's dazzling new novel, Innocents and Others, movies play a starring role. But they are just one form of storytelling examined in this smart and fascinating book, a hall of mirrors full of shifting identities so intriguing it's hard to look away...Spiotta keeps us always eager for the next twist, and her characters are both believable and freshly original. Their lives also give her a path to explore the art of narrative that is her own medium.
PositiveTampa Bay Times...a deeply researched and highly readable look at an extraordinary life...
PositiveTampa Bay TimesMemoir in general has always been a pretty slippery genre, and whether the narrator of The Ancient Minstrel is the real Jim Harrison or some carefully constructed performance might just be a distinction without a difference. Whoever he is, he tells a fine story. All three of these novellas traverse Harrison's familiar turf: the human relation to nature, how we live in it and consume it, how we believe we can rise above our natural urges and how often that makes us fools, and how nature's mortal effects on humans always win in the end.
PositiveTampa Bay TimesGratitude collects four of his essays, one written before his illness and three written during it. Each one expresses his characteristic, unquenchable curiosity about the world around him, a thirst for experience and understanding that seems to have sustained him until the end.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay Times...a memorable story of a mother and daughter ... Lucy Barton is a novel, but it too layers many stories, many of them told by Lucy's mother, whom she has not seen for years.
RaveThe Tampa Bay TimesRevelations will come, but the real payoff of this novel is getting to know the characters Berne creates. Littlefield is a great place to visit — although you wouldn't want to live there.
PositiveTampa Bay Times...[King] has always had a wicked (in more ways than one) sense of humor, too, and it's often on display along with the scary stuff in his new short story collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.
B. A. Shapiro
PositiveTampa Bay TimesShapiro keeps her story moving at a brisk pace as she cuts back and forth between Alizée's life and Danielle's reconstruction of it. It's a portrait in bold strokes, and one well worth experiencing.
PositiveTampa Bay TimesFinding the connections between the parts of the case — the crossings of the title, the places where apparently unconnected people encounter one another — gives readers Harry at his best. We get the bonus of seeing Mickey take that case to court for one of his bravura performances.
PositiveTampa Bay TimesAvenue of Mysteries is entirely Irving's, his best novel since the years of The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Like Lupe and Juan Diego's quest to visit Guadalupe's shrine, it has an ending you may anticipate —but the journey is full of richly imagined surprises.
PositiveTampa Bay Times[R]eading Costello's Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink feels like sitting next to him at a long, tipsy, laid-back party and listening to him spin tales until the sun comes up.
RaveTampa Bay Times...Fates and Furies takes a leap into unforgettable territory. It's a swoony love story, a complex mystery, a modern fairy tale, a comedy of manners, a dark and shocking revenge drama, all expertly interwoven and told in prose so lyrical and lovely that its sentences can sweep you off your feet.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesIn some ways, it isn't [revealing]. But in many others, Margo Jefferson's Negroland shines a spotlight on a fascinating slice of the American experience of which many people are barely aware.
PositiveThe Tampa Bay TimesSome of the stories are dreamy, such as the nostalgic 'Dusk' and the trippy 'Solitude'; others are nightmarish, like 'Wearing a Meat Shirt and Killing a Snake': 'We hoped that olive loaf would appeal even less to them than it did to us.' Others lean toward political satire, like 'Change of Life,' about a man who discovers the great secret of capitalism in a machine that shoots cookies, or simply play with the surreal nature of politics, as in a cluster of stories about former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who tells us, 'To Putin I have given over everything but the nuclear suitcase...I have found the nuclear suitcase to be a superior chick magnet.' And then there are a few that will flat crack your heart ... Every one of them is a voice worth hearing.