RaveThe Star TribuneTerrifying in its understatement, the novel is about the end of the world and what we might do when we get there. Reading this during a global pandemic is one of the most chilling literary experiences of 2020 ... Alam doles out details of the catastrophe in simple but unsettling asides. There are no big, showy scenes of horror, but you’ll remember this book the next time you ride the subway or get into an elevator. The anxiety builds to a point where you’re afraid to turn the page and yet you can’t stop yourself. Leave the World Behind is scary and propulsive, but it’s also a pointed warning. Whether we’ll hear it in time is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, pass the wine.
RaveThe Star Tribune... delightful ... With a light touch, [Straub] highlights the impossibility of viewing yourself the way your family sees you and how that myopia leads to misunderstandings that can shape a dynamic for decades ... Straub handles her intergenerational cast of characters with humor and insight ... The ordinary lives Straub depicts here seem surprisingly poignant at this particular point in time: You can’t help but feel wistful at such blessed normality. Worrying about love affairs and family squabbles is a luxury compared with fretting about the toilet paper supply chain ... Still, this novel rings true, the wisdom that its characters gain well earned.
Deb Olin Unferth
RaveThe Star Tribune... bracing ... Satirical and smart, veering from hilarious comedy to incisive commentary, Barn 8 demands that we reconsider our unexamined lives. Somewhere, in that great activist desert in the sky, Edward Abbey and his Monkey Wrench Gang are applauding ... Where Unferth’s sympathies lie is obvious, though she is never sanctimonious and even offers up an argument for cheap factory farming ... Unferth excels at the grim details of barn life. But she’s also a terrific comic writer, and her forays into chicken history and psychology are delightful[.]
RaveNewsday...arresting, beautifully written ... fierce and unexpected ... Nothing happens randomly in The Illness Lesson. Beams is an intelligent and meticulous writer.
PositiveNewsdayAmerican Dirt is more page-turner than literary masterpiece, a scorching, modern-day version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Instead of taking place in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic landscape, the nightmare is happening right here, right now, and Cummins tells the story with propulsive energy ... yes, she has clumsily tried to make a statement in the ongoing discussion about immigration. That the statement fell flat doesn’t negate its potential to influence readers who haven’t given much thought to the border or what happens there ... The action is almost unbearably suspenseful, and Cummins never delves into politics ... But mitigating such hopelessness is Cummins’ awareness of compassion, which may be the most compelling detail in the book ... That vein of kindness runs through American Dirt and reminds us we can do better, too.
PositiveNewsdayHow do we move forward when the ground under our feet shifts with every step? Anshaw examines that question with her typical intelligence, compassion and insight ... Right After the Weather unfolds more deliberately than Carry the One, with Anshaw taking her time to create a deliberate atmosphere of uncertainty and dread against the backdrop of the 2016 election. The book isn’t overwhelmingly political, but Anshaw views a world where a way of life is quietly — and not so quietly — falling apart ... Anshaw is deeply empathetic to Cate even as she notes that violence has made Cate feel powerful despite her shaky memory.
PositiveNewsdayThe importance of subtlety is underrated in horror fiction ... Sue Rainsford understands this truth, and that’s one reason her first novel Follow Me to Ground leaves such a powerful impression. Never overexplaining the strange world in which she places her characters, she builds a growing sense of dread with chilling images, poetic language and an eerie, hypnotic rhythm ... The questions Rainsford raises are compelling, though the author doesn’t necessarily answer all of them. Instead, she drives you to your own conclusions.
RaveThe Star Tribune... marvelous ... Schine finds the line between comedy and tragedy that she treads so skillfully in such novels as The Three Weissmans of Westport and They May Not Mean to But They Do (though as always she leans more on the side of comedy). Like her twins, she revels in language, its idiosyncrasies and our mangling of it ... you don’t need to be a writer or editor to fall under Schine’s spell.
PositiveNewsdayReading Deborah Levy’s novels is a lesson in humility. She is a careful and intelligent writer with an absolute command of language, one who demands you not only to pay close attention, but also second-guess your immediate reactions and responses to her work. Her novels are deceptively slim in length, but supersized with profound ideas that defy preconceived notions and easy interpretations ... the best possible sort of challenge ... Saul is the most unreliable of narrators, and the reader will undoubtedly suffer moments of confusion. But Levy doesn’t leave us lost and wandering without a guide. We can examine the pieces and put them together — like Jennifer’s triptych — and finally understand that the man who saw everything truly saw nothing at all.
PanNewsdayHow you feel about the latest installment of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series depends on how much you crave the literary company of Lisbeth Salander. If you look to the ferocious hacker who punishes abusive men to provide you with a catharsis we seldom see in real life, you probably want to read on. Hard to blame you. We need a win whenever we can get one ... If, however, you require a coherent and compelling story, with the Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist you remember from Stieg Larsson’s original Millennium trilogy, you might want to skip this book. The Girl Who Lived Twice has one intriguing development, but far too often the book makes you wonder: Did we really need this? ... The plot grows needlessly complex, bogging down in a sea of names ... The characters seem off, too ... As for Salander, she’s less of a punk but more of a caricature ... The required revenge scene in which she confronts an abusive husband lacks tension, as if Lagencrantz only threw it in because readers expect it.
PositiveNewsday... offers a unique view of the firefighter mindset ... The novel is at its best in the fire station, as Cassie works to earn respect ... Center, whose husband is a volunteer firefighter, reveals intriguing details about the life ... The book swoops into breathless romance once Cassie meets the handsome young rookie at the station, the offspring of Boston firefighting royalty with abs that launch a thousand erotic dreams ... can feel a little facile at times, its characters discussing feelings and forgiveness which an urgency that feels more convenient than realistic. But its window into firefighter culture is fascinating.
PositiveNewsdayThe Chain is the sort of relentless action novel that gets movie studios salivating before the final chapter is written ... Plot is the driving force in The Chain, but the book’s premise is psychologically sound, too. Parents are heroes, McKinty tells us. Also, parents are monsters ... To say that The Chain requires a hefty suspension of disbelief is an understatement. You must accept that negotiating the Dark Web is easy for middle class Americans, that most people can get large sums of cash swiftly ... Once you surrender to it, The Chain turns out to be awfully hard to put down.
RaveThe Star TribuneHow miserable is too miserable? Taffy Brodesser-Akner poses the question and successfully mines it for laughs ... funny, yes, but also savage, landing blows with efficient and deadly precision, fearless in its ravaging of gender double standards, the inequities of modern marriage and the bewildering intersection of sex and technology ... Brodesser-Akner turns the tables on Toby with wit, insight and a bracing, simmering rage. She offers a view of truths we may fear to examine too closely. How miserable is too miserable? Keep asking, she urges. Maybe one day, we’ll find out.
PositiveNewsdayDennis-Benn contrasts the deep chasm between the American dream and immigrant reality, and the result is magnetic and wrenching ... A mother who abandons her child is a monster in most cultures, but Dennis-Benn’s deep compassion for Patsy — for all women facing unthinkable choices — forces you to reconsider your own preconceptions. She urges you to think about this woman’s desperation, her fear, her past, her yearning for connection ... told from both points of view, mother and daughter, the voices raw, honest and haunting.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerIn her new novel, Nicole Dennis-Benn contrasts the deep chasm between the American dream and immigrant reality, and the result is magnetic and wrenching ... A mother who abandons her child is a monster in most cultures, but Dennis-Benn’s deep compassion for Patsy—for all women facing unthinkable choices—forces you to reconsider your own preconceptions. She urges you to think about this woman’s desperation, her fear, her past, her yearning for connection ... Patsy is told from both points of view, mother and daughter, the voices raw, honest, and haunting.
RaveNewsday...a rich, fascinating and romantic union of fact and imagination about young Lincoln, the woman he would marry and his beloved best friend ... intimate, warm and, above all, compassionate. Bayard is concerned with the possibilities of the human heart, and he presents an enigmatic Lincoln seen — and loved — from two other points of a romantic triangle ... Bayard is the perfect writer to re-imagine Lincoln’s private life ... perhaps the greatest triumph of Courting Mr. Lincoln is how effectively Bayard creates suspense, even when we know how the story ends.
Niklas Natt Och Dag
PositiveNewsday\"The Wolf and the Watchman is gruesome and chilling, soaked in blood, bile and depravity; its craven, opportunistic monsters all the more monstrous for being human ... [Natt och Dag] offers a tantalizing mystery, a foreboding, claustrophobic sense of place and a pair of unforgettable investigators ... Natt och Dag is fond of... overblown speech, but there’s no arguing the truth of the insight.\
RaveThe Star Tribune...superb ... Let’s be honest, reader. Bowling away trouble is not possible. Trouble is the direct result of existence. But this truth does not stop the memorable characters in Bowlaway from flinging themselves toward heartache, despair, danger and love like so many balls barreling down the alley ... Like all of McCracken’s work, Bowlaway is sharp and funny and tragic. Following 100 years of change in an American town, it’s a story of loss and escape, inheritance and acceptance, love and betrayal and joy, women who dare to bowl and men who would stop them, killer molasses and possible spontaneous human combustion.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneIn Late in the Day [Hadley] continues her persistent exploration of human frailty and resilience, moving easily between the present and the past to reveal the hard edges and silent compromises that shape all relationships ... with compassion and insight, Hadley raises the possibility of hope for these wonderfully imperfect characters. Even after the unthinkable, they—and we—may stumble upon what we need.
Karen Thompson Walker
PositiveNewsday\"[Walker] excels at wielding the storytelling power of cataclysm without ever losing sight of its effects on individuals ... Walker brings the frightened residents of Santa Lora into focus with simple yet potent sketches, investing us in their lives ... But don’t expect concrete explanations. Walker is deliberately vague on what the intense dreaming means.\
Anne Boyd Rioux
RaveNewsday...if this story is a celebration of the joys of girlhood, Rioux asks, why does it focus on \'a girl who doesn’t want to be one at all?\' ... It’s an excellent question, one Rioux considers with intelligence and insight ... With impeccable research and genuine affection, she charts the history of the beloved (and sometimes reviled) novel ... In Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy she covers an intriguing set of topics, from the book’s reception in 1868 to its current representations in pop culture ... Rioux persuasively argues that Alcott’s influence remains.
PositiveThe Star TribuneClock Dance is Tyler\'s 22nd novel, and it\'s immediately identifiable as her work. This is not a condemnation: Tyler has been examining the quirks of American domestic life with insight and humor for decades. Her novels, which include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Breathing Lessons, are funny and warm but also shrewd in the way they reflect our maddening, imperfect lives. The opening chapters explore scenes from Willa\'s youth and young adulthood, but like Willa, the novel blossoms only once the story lands in Baltimore, a city that Tyler has staked out as her own.
PositiveThe Star TribuneDavid Sedaris has never been quite so preoccupied with mortality ... But Sedaris isn\'t sentimental about his mortality or anyone else\'s, despite the shadow that lingers over Calypso — the suicide of his troubled sister Tiffany in 2013, a few weeks before her 50th birthday ... Most of Calypso is funny, of course ... The latter essay will leave you helpless with laughter. The final essay, \'The Comey Memo,\' merely leaves you feeling helpless.
RaveThe Miami HeraldIt’s a swiftly paced, nerve-racking novel, one of those books that produces simultaneous desires: You want to keep plowing through it but dread what surprises Lepucki is going to spring. And you should. By keeping the fearful scenarios firmly rooted in reality, she makes California all the more unsettling. You don’t need zombies when you can so effectively remind us how hard we lean on the social order for peace of mind … She uses this disturbing framework of a society without a safety net to examine our need for community and how we find solace in the presence of other people — even if their best interests are not ours.
RaveThe Miami HeraldThe pleasures of this sublime romantic melodrama, set in 1922, also lie in its steadily enthralling pace and exquisite period detail, its devastating portrayal of an economically and emotionally battered England after World War I and its vibrant protagonist Frances Wray, a young woman who lives with her mother in their once-grand but now rapidly decaying family home … Though its structure is more straightforward, The Paying Guests shares Fingersmith’s inexorable narrative velocity and erotic power. There is a murder, and there is a trial, and the deliberate buildup to both will fray your nerves and rattle your expectations. Waters expertly evokes doomed love, terror and regret as she examines just how far we’ll go for a chance at happiness.
RaveThe Miami HeraldTrue to his talents, Lamb finds a way to incorporate in other diverse elements into We Are Water – a natural disaster, racial injustice, American life during the Obama years, even a bit of a ghost story – to add heft and depth to this painfully honest, character-driven family drama … Lamb allows each of the Ohs to weigh in on the past and present, and their voices are distinct and true.
RaveThe Miami HeraldIt’s here in the clever structure of her latest novel, a wonderfully slippery, postmodern examination of the perception, gender, loss and the lasting power of art. How to be both is split into two narratives — the present-day ‘Camera,’ from the viewpoint of a teenage girl in Cambridge, and ‘Eyes,’ narrated by a 15th century Italian artist … How to be both is [not] merely an exercise in literary trickery. Smith’s technique is bold and experimental, but what makes her work so rare and desirable is that it always contains a moving emotional core. Her novels may stretch stylistic boundaries, but they also compassionately, even tenderly, explore the universal perils of being human.
PositiveThe Miami HeraldThe Whole Town’s Talking acts as a chatty companion to Flagg’s previous Elmwood Springs novels ... What drives The Whole Town’s Talking isn’t plot but nostalgia and Flagg’s gentle wit. It’s a pleasant, amusing bedtime story for grownups, with short chapters that propel you through the decades, almost all of them leaving you with a smile ... overall, The Whole Town’s Talking is warm and inviting. Flagg’s Elmwood Springs novels are comfort reads of the best kind, warm and engaging without flash or fuss.
RaveThe Miami Herald...for the satirically minded Prose, a dazzling writer who’s gifted at exposing our secret shames, this inexplicably long-running disaster is the perfect premise for an invigorating examination of art and ambition as well as a fertile jumping-off point for revelations about our human fragility ... Mister Monkey takes aim at a great many targets — modern parenting and theatrical delusions among them— and hits them all with devastating wit. But what’s remarkable is Prose’s ability to flesh out her characters in a way that allows you to feel for them even as you laugh at their predicaments.
RaveThe Miami Herald...a bracing, heartfelt debut about family, motherhood and friendship, grief and healing and how all of these elements and our own shaky decisions constantly reshape our lives ... sets her hooks in you in moments of quiet observation: a previously brusque nurse comforting a heartbroken Nadia or the pain Luke feels at losing his ability to do what he loves. Some of the introspection is unsettling...But Bennett makes us love these flawed and aching characters like they’re our own.
PositiveThe Miami HeraldIn Today Will Be Different, [Semple] dives into familiar territory with her usual sly wit, delivering another story of a woman trying — and mostly failing — put her life in order ... never takes itself too seriously, and while some of Eleanor’s issues are unique — see the wonderful, enigmatic graphic novel nestled within the book, illustrated by Eric Chase Anderson — we’ve all been in her shoes at some point ... Today Will Be Different is brisk, amusing and engaging, and Semple is a champion observer of the human condition.
PositiveThe Miami Herald...[a] devastating yet ultimately hopeful novel ... Lee shines a harsh light on the treatment of North Korean immigrants in this foreign world. The result is eye-opening and heartbreaking, even if Danny's story seems a bit far-fetched ... an intense, unforgettable, compassionate study of human resilience.
RaveThe Miami HeraldParkhurst is especially deft at examining the complexities facing parents of autistic children. She doesn’t resurrect the disproven vaccines-are-the-cause argument, but she makes clear how frustrated parents, even educated ones, might grasp at any explanation for what has changed their lives so drastically ... [she] truly excels at bringing Alexandra and Iris to life, her terrific prose matched by compassion and a sense of humor ... her best work, a haunting, creepy but ultimately moving story of love and family.
RaveThe Miami HeraldSo does The Underground Railroad live up to the hype? Yes, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Whitehead has always been a smart, inventive, versatile writer, and his creative premise immediately demands your attention ... a thrilling, relentless adventure, an exquisitely crafted novel that exerts a deep emotional pull. It’s an alternate history with a bite and a heart ... a masterpiece.
RaveThe Miami HeraldNot a single page disappoints ... Truly Madly Guilty may take place on the other side of the world, but Moriarty’s sly sense of humor, vivid characters and her frank appraisal of suburban life make it clear that this barbecue could have happened anywhere, to anyone. The dilemma is universal — and irresistible. The only difficulty with Truly Madly Guilty? Putting it down.
RaveThe Miami Herald\"Takes a hard look at difficult subjects--class, poverty, identity, racism, homophobia, colorism ... a haunting portrait of an exploited community on the verge of irrevocable change ... Dennis-Benn fleshes out these characters confidently, shaping them as complicated and often contradictory ... Also remarkable is Here Comes the Sun\'s unflinching view of the economics of morality.\
RaveThe Miami HeraldCathleen Schine’s new novel is a seamless blend of humor and heartbreak, shot through with so many funny, painful truths that absorbing them all is an experience to be savored. With a bright yellow cover with Dick-and-Jane style drawings, They May Not Mean To, But They Do looks a bit jaunty, but its humor is steeped in familiar (and unsparing) reality ... Schine shows great compassion for all her characters; she understands that these waters are uncharted for everyone ... Don’t shy away from They May Not Mean To, But They Do. Warm, lively and generous, it’s one of the must-reads of the summer.
RaveMiami Herald...a novel so steeped in life and wonder and joy and sorrow that you may be tempted to call it Erdrich’s best. To be fair, each new novel she writes could conceivably earn that title. Still, LaRose offers a compelling argument.
RaveThe Miami HeraldThe six lean, disturbing, unforgettable works in Fortune Smiles are distinct and unique, each a perfect marvel of subtlety and precision, each devastating in its own way. But they’re united in their ability to linger in your consciousness ... His restrained but haunting stories examine loss through the eyes of characters ravaged by loneliness and isolation. They’re all at the crossroads, struggling to take the next step.
RaveThe Miami HeraldWritten with wit and grace, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is not a chronicle of their war years — Cleave is too imaginative for that — but it’s inspired by their lives and letters, their deprivations and their resilience. World War II is the ultimate romantic war, at least if you watch the old movies, and accordingly, Cleave shapes Everyone Brave is Forgiven around a painful love triangle, that staple of World War II fiction. But Cleave’s work is not a cliche: In this novel, romance is imperfect, love fickle. Courage doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, and even a mostly good heart can be blind to ugly truths ... Everyone Brave is Forgiven asks hard questions with no easy answers, reminding us of the price we pay every day just for being human.
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsCleave’s latest novel — which is wonderful, not surprisingly — continues to explore human endurance in all its many facets, this time during World War II. Like most Brits, Cleave had family in that fight: a grandfather stationed on Malta during its siege, and two grandmothers in London, one an ambulance driver and the other a teacher. Written with wit and grace, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is not a chronicle of their war years, but it’s inspired by their lives and letters, their deprivations and their resilience...Cleave, who never writes simplistic stories, refuses any heroic flag-waving and shines a light on an unpleasant side of Britain during the war years: the vicious racism that’s every bit as insidious as German anti-Semitism. Can we demand righteous change in the middle of a national crisis? What takes more courage: dying in battle or living in vain? Everyone Brave Is Forgiven asks hard questions with no easy answers, reminding us of the price we pay every day just for being human.
PositiveThe Miami HeraldThe Excellent Lombards is Hamilton’s seventh book, and though it is funny and heartbreaking, colored with a palpable wistfulness, it feels lighter than some of her earlier works ... But for all its simplicity, The Excellent Lombards is deeply affecting, a moving elegy for an idyllic way of life that’s slipping away as development and technology encroach and children grow up and away from rural pleasures.
RaveMiami HeraldHigh Dive is not only a well-executed suspense novel or political thriller (although it’s both). An editor at the literary journal A Public Space, Lee also takes great care in constructing detailed, empathetic portraits of his characters, investing readers in their fates and adding depth and nuance to his story. He blends fact with fiction, comedy with tragedy, and comes up with a seamless depiction of what happens at the crossroads of ordinary life and history.
RaveThe Miami Herald...much of the joy of reading Lucy Barton comes from piecing together the hints and half revelations in Strout’s unsentimental but compelling prose, especially as you begin to grasp the nature of a bond in which everything important is left unsaid.
PositiveThe Miami HeraldHunt maintains a dark and disturbing atmosphere throughout this intriguing, well-drawn Gothic, creating a terrain that’s familiar and yet alien and unnerving at the same time.
PositiveMiami HeraldThomson’s chilly style doesn’t quite gel with the high price Katherine pays for her hard-won epiphany, which feels a bit simplistic after all that’s come before. Still, after he draws us skillfully into Katherine’s mysterious quest, he renders us unable to look away.