A former book editor and finalist for a National Magazine Award, Hamilton Cain is the author of a memoir, This Boy’s Faith: Notes from a Southern Baptist Upbringing (Crown, 2011). He reviews fiction and nonfiction for the O: theOprah Magazine, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Barnes & Noble Review, and Chapter 16, and is working on a new project about men and marriage in the age of #metoo. He lives with his wife and three sons in Brooklyn. @HamiltonCain
RaveO, the Oprah MagazineRed Comet, Heather Clark’s heroic biography of Sylvia Plath, draws on a plethora of untapped archives and letters—and even a previously undiscovered novel— to resurrect Plath ... illuminates Plath’s life in unprecedented detail. Suicide attempts take a backseat to fiercely focused genius ... Red Comet achieves the remarkable: It’s a majestic tome with the narrative propulsion of a thriller. We now have the complete story.
RaveThe Star Tribune... [an] incandescent, richly researched biography ... Red Comet takes us on a literary picaresque, drawing on untapped archives, Plath’s complete correspondence, interviews with surviving members of the couple’s social and professional circles, and, most crucially, on Hughes’ journals and letters. From both perspectives Clark evokes how their common purpose rose and later diverged, invaluable reportage missing from other books ... Clark delves deeper than biographers who have gone before: We see the poet as if peering through the Hubble Telescope for the first time, blurred galaxies and nebulas bursting into crystalline detail. Yet this gold standard of a biography does something more: Red Comet is a page-turner, particularly when Clark shifts to Plath’s final two years in England ... By centering Plath’s evolving command of craft—by focusing on her peerless lyrical ear—Clark peels away clichéd interpretations much as the poet shed her false selves ... A bravura performance, Red Comet is the one we’ve waited for.
Bobbie Ann Mason
RaveChapter 16...vibrant ... Dear Ann steers clear of politics; this is not a war novel. Mason is more invested in charting Ann’s inner life as a passionate disciple of literature and how a first great love casts a shadow over the rest of her life ... a crisp collage, the whole of a life greater than the sum of its parts. Mason’s in complete command, from the alternate-reality premise right to the shocking plot twist at the end. Despite its serious themes, Dear Ann is a limpid, riveting read, set in a deceptively light register
RaveChapter 16What emerges is similar to a Calder mobile, an original assemblage of bright colors and jagged shards that move and twirl into a coherent, strikingly beautiful whole ... Homeland Elegies unfolds across a mash of forms, from family saga to political op-ed to Muslim history ... As with Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the narrative proper may be a farce, with the real action unfolding in a series of carefully inserted footnotes. Each section conjures its own erudite magic ... moments of vulnerability enrich our understanding. Homeland Elegies, then, is a multitude of elegies: for Akhtar’s ancestral Pakistan, for an America that’s lost its way, for Islam, for his youth, for the act of storytelling itself. And yet here he’s forged something vivid, compelling and possibly new.
RaveThe Star Tribune... a shimmering tapestry of rage and redemption ... She’s at the top of her game here, dovetailing flashbacks with foreground story in sumptuous sentences, capturing the shameful plight of World War II—and present-day—detainees. Summer argues passionately for art as our best weapon to vanquish the chaos of the present, probing the season’s gossamer mystique with a delicate array of motifs ... She\'s...a magnanimous stylist with an ear like none other, a command of both mania and poise that feels beautifully tailored to our time. With its jubilant final act, the seasonal quartet assures that Smith will be studied for decades to come, a beacon to future readers eager to wrest meaning from our turbulent moment.5
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune...gorgeously crafted ... Her reporting is nimble and her sentences exquisite. But the real power of Caste lies tucked within the stories she strings together like pearls ... a luminous read, bearing its own torch of righteous wrath in a diamond-hard prose that will be admired and studied by future generations of journalists.
PositiveSan Francisco Chronicle... exuberant if uneven ... Doty shifts between exquisite close readings and tales of his own sexual awakening, critical analysis blended with an autobiographical prose poem, a kind of call-and-response to Whitman ... A leading poet in his own right, Doty brings an attuned eye and ear to the backstory behind Whitman’s 1855 poetry collection ... This is Doty at his best: In gorgeous, calibrated sentences, he evokes the flourishes and sprung rhythms that make Whitman so contemporary, the poet’s intimate conversations with his readers, lines that we now hear as come-ons ... Less successful are Doty’s own confessions...These sections come across as self-regarding, a tad fulsome ... Quibble aside, Doty’s passion is contagious at a moment when the American body politic is under vicious assault. An assured, eloquent study of our poetic progenitor, What Is the Grass makes the case for Whitman as the medicine we need.
RaveNashville Scene...a spicy cocktail that will intoxicate readers — a few fingers of Dorothy Parker and a splash of comedian Wanda Sykes, as bracing and delicious as a cosmopolitan ... If zingers were money, she’d be a zillionaire ... her pieces crackle with conversational electricity, equal parts stand-up comedy and literary craft ... there’s a tenderness beneath the attitude. Irby approaches personal experience with a keen clinical eye ... Immersed in the sparkling flow of Irby’s prose, it’s almost possible to forget there’s a pandemic happening.
RaveThe Star TribuneA weave of gripping reportage and scientific detective story, Hidden Valley Road plumbs the heart-wrenching tragedies and surprising triumphs of the Galvins...in a page-turner ... He moves nimbly from the foreground plot to broader clinical investigations and the terra incognita of the brain ... a tale like no other ... destined to become a classic of narrative nonfiction.
RaveThe Oprah Magazines... entrancing ... Tyler is a keen-eyed but tenderhearted social observer ... Few writers flesh out the malaise of middle age with such delicate, assured strokes. Tyler is an American Vermeer whose canvases keep opening whole worlds within compact frames.
RaveThe Star TribuneIt’s a stunning capstone to an epic that’s both engrossing history and an unsurpassed literary achievement ... The Mirror and the Light is long and lacks the galvanizing presence of Boleyn, whose arc drove the earlier novels. (Henry’s third and fourth queens, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, are realized here, but they’re no match for Boleyn’s Lady Macbeth antics.) Mantel has far more political ground and plot twists to cover, requiring a reader’s patience with the intricacies of backroom deals and the fledgling Reformation. But the narrative never feels like a maze; Mantel’s language sings gloriously across the register, from lyric to comic to tragic, her punctuation and use of pronouns as liquid and expressionistic as Monet’s brushwork in his late canvases ... The Mirror and the Light is a diadem of riches, binding together the complex pieces of Cromwell’s character while leading inexorably toward the scaffold. With the trilogy now complete, Mantel cements her position as one of our greatest literary stylists and innovators.
RaveThe Oprah MagazineThe Mirror & the Light bears the stamp of Mantel’s genius; it’s a richly hued mural of meticulous research, enthralling characters, and expressionistic language. She is our literary Michelangelo. In Cromwell, a striver who will do anything to survive, she lets us glimpse the invention of modernity. Teeming with pageantry, intrigue, sex, and salvation, The Mirror & the Light reflects the looming tensions of every era, between those who hoard power and those who crave it.
RaveThe Star Tribune... absorbing ... Inskeep...deftly traces how the marriage mirrored the era’s ferment ... Vibrant and propulsive, Imperfect Union is by far Inskeep’s strongest book, reminiscent of work by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham. Inskeep re-creates the darker currents beneath Manifest Destiny while rescuing John and Jessie from the margins of history, seeing them as precursors to the epic struggles ahead ... a pure delight to read, but beneath Inskeep’s stylish sentences lurk astute insights, illuminating the outsized role celebrity plays in our culture, the outward triumphs and quiet pain it inflicted on two lives that left an indelible, if neglected, mark on our politics.
RaveThe Star TribuneFatland’s anecdotes are rich and revelatory ... Sovietistan blends complex history with Fatland’s own clear-eyed reporting, the devastation of the Soviet era always in the background (and sometimes the foreground). With the Russian Bear once again on the move, she plumbs the high cost of dictatorships and the human yearning for self-determination. Sovietistan is a perspicacious, vital book about little-known places and real lives; it deserves a wide readership.
Carola Saavedra, Trans. by Daniel Hahn
RavePloughshares... mesmerizing ... Saavedra brilliantly plays with the epistolary form, crafting the letters into a story-within-a-story ... The erotic storyline peels away to reveal the author’s underlying preoccupation: the chasm of miscommunication between men and women ... It’s a testament to Saavedra’s daring that she explores our desires panoramically, careful not to judge. The novel is both visceral and spare, stitched with motifs ... the novel startles with the inevitability of fate. Obsessive love is a theme as old as the Iliad, but here Saavedra gives it her own enigmatic twist, joining the ranks of Latin American authors who are transforming our literary landscape in vivid, thrilling ways.
RaveThe Oprah MagazineMcCann, who began his career as a reporter, examines with skill and empathy the characters’ private agonies as they play out against the backdrop of war; his virtuosic storytelling conjures the confounding realities of the Israeli occupation ... Throughout, there’s a rich tension between the factual and the imagined, and in the way particular tribulations are part of a universal experience ... Apeirogon reminds us that such incandescent art evokes humility and light in the face of oppression and loss.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe Booker Prize-winning writer Aravind Adiga brings fresh urgency to the issue [of the global migrant crisis] in his searing, inventive Amnesty ... Amnesty is Adiga’s most accomplished novel yet, a gorgeously crafted page-turner with brains and heart, illuminating the courage of displaced peoples and the cruelties of those who conspire against them.
RaveOprah Magazine... electrifying ... In taut, propulsive sentences, Moore draws on the police procedural in conjuring a community on the brink while exploring tensions between two sisters on either side of the thin blue line ... the author has something more transgressive in mind—that is, to use the tropes of crime fiction in composing a deeper morality tale in which the heroes and villains commingle and even change places. Among the first novelists to dive into the riptides of the opioid crisis, Moore navigates assuredly through plot twists and big reveals ... equal parts literary and thrilling—a compassionate, multidimensional look at an epidemic that surrounds us ... it’s got all the ingredients that make for an unputdownable mystery, but it’s got something more, a narrator who leads you into unexpected places, and keeps surprising you until the end.
RaveThe Star TribuneThomas Pierce\'s debut collection, Hall of Small Mammals, taps the aquifer of Southern literature but blends in supernatural elements with a light, deft touch, echoes of García Márquez among the biscuits and magnolias. A praline sweetness glazes the surface of these stories, offset by the occasional bitter aftertaste. Pierce knows his people well, connecting their conflicts to a deeper narrative about the human condition ... Although these stories are suffused in whimsy, Pierce plumbs the darkness that laps at his characters\' lives. He\'s particularly astute in his grasp of the ways men oppress each other, the joys and limitations of the father-son relationship.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...vibrant, trenchant ... The Economists’ Hour...vividly narrates the advance of Friedman and his peers out of academia and into the marbled corridors of Washington, D.C. ... Appelbaum paints a lavish group portrait, from the famous, such as Paul Volcker and Arthur Laffer, to more obscure figures, among them Walter Oi and George Stigler ... To those familiar with Appelbaum’s Twitter feed, his sense of humor is whimsical, leavening the dense history and reflected here in headings such as \'Bubble Trouble\' and \'Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There.\' The Economists’ Hour tacks back and forth across the decades, occasionally diffusing the force and clarity of his storytelling ... Appelbaum’s conclusion is stirring, as he brings a moral purpose to the inequity that plagues our politics today[.]
RaveThe Star Tribune... a slender yet potent study that illuminates how the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments...were hammered into the Constitution ... With The Second Founding, Foner offers a taut, absorbing companion piece to his magisterial Reconstruction, published three decades ago ... Foner strikes a note as clear as a bell: We cannot sustain a third founding.
RaveThe Star TribuneNow with her searing, poignant, often hilarious Out of Darkness, Shining Light, she upends the conventions of historical fiction ... [narrator] Halima is a kind of African Wife of Bath...bossy, brassy and brilliantly realized ... Gappah\'s treatment of her characters\' odyssey, by turns playful and tragic, is underpinned by a larger theme: the legacy of colonization ... Out of Darkness, Shining Light beautifully evokes the moral ambiguities that lurk within the human heart, revealing a talent that continues to grow from book to book.
RaveThe Star TribuneBenjamin Moser’s authorized biography, Sontag: Her Life and Work, is an epiphany of research and storytelling, the definitive life of a writer both more and less than the myth she fastidiously crafted...[with] many juicy revelations ... Sontag strides across Sontag like a colossus ... But Moser’s no hagiographer; he details Sontag’s middling fiction, her petty grievances, a childlike inability to take care of herself ... A searching meditation on the divided self, a warts-and-all appraisal of Sontag’s behavior, scrupulous readings of her texts: all speak to Moser’s luminous achievement.
RaveChapter 16The stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret comprise a kind of magic show, a mystical whirl of light and dark, humor and heartbreak. His new collection, Fly Already, transports us into his quirky yet profound world, shaped by an obsession with the twinned masks of comedy and tragedy reminiscent of writers as varied as George Saunders, Gary Shteyngart, and Isaac Bashevis Singer ... To Keret’s credit, he never brings the Palestinian conflict into full focus, allowing his characters (usually men) to stumble through mishaps of their own making .. Their reversals of fortune are both sudden and moving ... Keret’s ear for the whacky and revelatory is pitch-perfect ... Keret’s stories are not all created equal, but happily the misses are few. Fly Already showcases a writer with a wealth of tricks up his sleeve and a rich, slangy voice, a recognized talent on the global stage who deserves a wider American audience.
PositiveChapter 16... a big-hearted, capacious novel, like the dwelling at the center of it, with Dickensian touches throughout. Its characterization varies with mileage, but the novel’s exploration of family and place is as searching as any in Patchett’s oeuvre, as she limns the pain of even the most privileged. There’s an affecting twist in her final act, leading to yet more tragedy ... Danny’s celestial city proves elusive, but as Patchett suggests, the striving may be the point, even if it leaves a bittersweet taste to \'happily ever after.\'
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneHorrocks shines as she renders the Montmartre demimonde in Day-Glo colors, as provocative as a Toulouse-Lautrec canvas. Deftly she plumbs the singular zeal — and occasional neuroses — that drive artists toward achievement as well as self-destruction ... In the second half, the novel’s tension slackens: The decades roll on predictably as Horrocks slips into a formulaic groove that traces the composer’s later years, although cameos from Jean Cocteau and Claude Debussy add sparkle...Fortunately, an elderly Louise rescues the drifting narrative ... Feisty to the end, she remembers her brother’s youthful triumph, a coda to the grand themes that The Vexations explores with grace and conviction.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe trope of the absent child often casts a grim shadow over our literary landscape but rarely with the acute psychological insights of Chia-Chia Lin’s poised debut ... Lin conjures these quotidian lives in a shimmering prose ... If you’re expecting a quirky Alaskan story along the lines of the old television series Northern Exposure, think again: Lin guides us subtly but relentlessly into a wilderness of anguish ... But the bleakness here is redeemed by Lin’s honesty and honed craft, her masterful evocation of the Last Frontier ... And Lin’s characters are fully realized ... The Unpassing is the work of a mature artist, an eloquent, unsparing testament to the vicissitudes of our lives, how love can plunge us into the brutal cold of a long Arctic night.
RaveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"... Smith spins a beguiling, faceted tale, stirring with underground resistance, ordinary folks doing extraordinary things in the name of morality ... The prose here is vintage Smith: slangy and acerbic but speckled like a quail’s egg with lyrical insights ... With its inventive twists, all-too-human cast and wrenching political reckoning, Spring ushers in a fresh season of Ali Smith’s genius.\
RaveChapter 16... [a] gimlet-eyed, laugh-out-loud collection ... zingers enliven the collection while simultaneously dispensing practical advice ... big-hearted ... Pride and Prejudice reimagined as an episode of Designing Women. Ellis draws back the curtain on a class-bound milieu, detailing the polite way to travel on planes, the virtues of mayonnaise and mail-order hams, but with cutting insights about our troubled times.
PositiveNashville Scene\"... richly drawn, propulsive ... There’s much distinctive storytelling in Losing Earth ... Losing Earth beautifully underscores what it would mean to lose our Earth, but also plots a few steps — wobbly, tentative — toward saving it.\
RaveChapter 16\"... Emily Skaja writes with astonishing skill and versatility ... Variety is Skaja’s game: she deploys non-sequiturs and elliptical imagery with surgical precision, seeking power in contradiction, masking a drama impossible to disguise ... [Skaja\'s] emotional range keeps extending as the collection unfolds ... Emily Skaja brings an inventive imagination and fearless pursuit of craft to Brute, a voice fully formed in a captivating first book. We can expect great things from her in the future.\
PositiveThe Star Tribune\"Gingerbread struggles to find its emotional sweet spot, leaning into self-conscious flourishes and a plot that occasionally feels unmoored, devoid of gravity, an Escher drawing in print. Oyeyemi loves to poke us in the eye. Only in the novel’s stirring last act, as Harriet, Margot and Perdita seek out Gretel with the help of a creepy real estate agent, Miss Maszkeradi, does Gingerbread come together ... For all her shape-shifting sentences, Oyeyemi still gives us dashes of lyricism; few writers can milk an ellipsis with such dramatic precision ... With this final hook, Gingerbread rises to the level of Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird, revealing Oyeyemi as a master of literary masquerade, forging a singular art.\
PositiveNashville Scene\"There are stylistic echoes of Joan Didion — terse yet beautiful writing, a bracing honesty — in the graceful new essay collection by Emily Bernard ... Didion’s essays are models of clinical observation, but Bernard leads us into her inner landscape with candor and confession. Beneath her still surfaces, a rage roils ... This is an essayist who takes risks, casting real people as characters ... Small moments open onto piercing revelations about race ... Black Is the Body often rises to a taut lyricism, rich in detail and feeling ... As is often the case with collections, Black Is the Body is uneven ... Quibbles aside, Black Is the Body marks the debut of an essayist in command of her gifts, a book that belongs beside the best of contemporary autobiography.\
PositiveBarnes & Noble Review\"... The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence In Human Evolution explores in rich detail ... The first half is maddeningly repetitive and often textbook-dull; Wrantham can’t quite shed the tweeds and lecterns of academia ... But as its pieces jigsaw into place, The Goodness Paradox picks up velocity, its themes emerging with force and clarity ... Once The Goodness Paradox has methodically mapped out self-domestication and its selective underpinnings, the book shrugs off its academic chrysalis; its prose eases into graceful lines, mimicking the syndrome itself. Wrantham moves beyond biological survey into the realms of politics and philosophy.\
RaveThe Star Tribune\"Treuer blends a scholar’s tenacity with vivid reportage and personal anecdotes, but beneath his compassionate storytelling a magma of anger flows ... Treuer movingly probes the horrors of Indian boarding schools, for instance, a project dreamed up by well-meaning white progressives but destined to rip apart thousands of families, scores of children forever cut off from their parents ... The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee looks back unflinchingly at the suffering and self-reliance of Indians, sifting fresh insights from well-trod soil ... Beautifully written and argued, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee dares to imagine, even in our own cynical time, the arc of history bending toward justice.\
RaveStar TribuneA Rope From the Sky...is a masterful account of the birth and near-death of a nation. Minnesota native Vertin, a seasoned diplomat and journalist active in Sudan for decades, offers a wealth of \'you are there\' reportage and revelatory interviews with South Sudan’s founding fathers. He seams together a staggeringly complicated puzzle, re-creating the savage street battles and high-level diplomacy that has informed South Sudan’s infancy and childhood. But much of the book’s texture comes from beautiful portraits of the South Sudanese people, as they carve out lives in thatch-roofed tukuls in the bush and in Juba’s electronic shops and open-air markets. A Rope From the Sky is an invaluable contribution to the literature of global politics, an intimate diary of a young nation’s tenuous struggle to survive, and a cautionary tale of two men whose personal animus pushed their country to the brink.
David W. Blight
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...authoritative, meticulously researched ... Blight’s arc traces the familiar lines of Douglass’ story...but assiduously fleshing it out with rich detail and context ... This is scholarship on an epic yet accessible scale, occasionally dry but always vital, as Douglass’ writing, activism and contradictions speak directly to us today. Blight taps previously neglected archives to re-create Douglass’ later years ... Blight’s exhaustive, donnish approach may not suit every reader’s palate. But it’s a commanding account of a singular life, a sumptuous portrait of a crusader unyielding in his pursuit of racial justice.
RaveBarnes and Noble Review...authoritative and enthralling ... Gabriel chooses to trace, in lush, meticulous detail, the lives and careers of five women featured in that show, shifting back and forth between them, revealing their gifts and idiosyncrasies ... Gabriel astutely draws a bright line between Krasner and Elaine de Kooning ... By any metric Gabriel’s accomplishment is formidable. She brings a perspicacity to Ninth Street Women, packing exhaustive research and original reporting into a dense but richly hued narrative. Her execution is essentially perfect ... Art criticism: Gabriel is always incisive but she never trips over exegesis. She keeps her language sophisticated but smooth ... And Ninth Street Women wouldn’t be the landmark work it is without an unflinching appraisal of gender politics. Gabriel plays it fair and square ... Mary Gabriel’s magisterial book clasps each woman by the hand and waltzes her gracefully to center stage.
RaveThe Star TribuneWith Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975, British military historian Max Hastings offers a literary analogue to PBS’ series; in his introduction he acknowledges a debt to Burns and Novick. But while equally stellar, Hastings’ book skews differently, an outsider’s detailed, under-the-hood investigation into the United States’ unwinnable war; China and the Soviet Union’s chicanery; and a people determined to strip away the bonds of colonialism, even to the point of self-immolation. Richly drawn, the dramatis personae leap from Hastings’ pages. There’s moral rot aplenty, on all sides ... while the tragic arc is familiar, Hastings paints his mural in fresh hues, his strokes concise yet colorful, guiding us through each trauma-wracked episode, from the acrimonious collapse of French imperialism to the Geneva Convention’s partition of Vietnam to mounting war ... the complete story is here, masterfully told, in the tradition of David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan and Seymour Hersh.
Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Trans. by Anne McClean
RaveStar Tribune...a layered, meticulously observed new novel ... Vásquez’s pacing is leisurely, but a story-within-a-story emerges ... Dense and allusive, with a broad cast of characters, The Shape of the Ruins may tax the patience of American readers. It occasionally comes across as an obscure lecture on Colombian history rather than a deep dive into a country’s damaged soul ... Dense and allusive, with a broad cast of characters, The Shape of the Ruins may tax the patience of American readers. It occasionally comes across as an obscure lecture on Colombian history rather than a deep dive into a country’s damaged soul ... But stick with it. The Shape of the Ruins is far more than a tutorial; it’s a gripping Deep State novel that richly illuminates how the powerful brutalize the powerless. Its implications should serve as a cautionary tale for other nations under authoritarian threats. Vásquez has written the epic of his people.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneWhen poets turn to prose, images spark off the page and incantatory rhythms thrum in the minds of readers ... The feel of the reins is different: A taut power surges through the lines. Enter New Zealander Ashleigh Young, whose new collection of essays, Can You Tolerate This? is an edgy, vibrant portrait of electricity in language and the body in crisis ... Young infuses a quirky energy into her surreal moments ... These essays are interior, keenly felt, occasionally shocking, sprinkled with enigmatic bits of history ... Can You Tolerate This? adds up to a memoir prismed into multiple perspectives, drifting restlessly from first-person confessions to second-person meditations to third-person dramas ... In exacting sentences she probes the body’s mysteries ... These essays were reading me. She sees to the marrow of our humanity with a kind of MRI vision ... Can You Tolerate This? is an assured debut from a prodigiously talented, empathic writer whose prose shines as brightly as her poetry.
R O Kwon
PositiveNew York Journal of Books...a luminous and propulsive if uneven debut ... Kwon wisely keeps the characters cloaked in mystery, gradually revealing their tragic backstories in short, seductively impressionistic chapters ... Kwon’s language is often intoxicating, but in her drive to layer on poetic sentences she occasionally overreaches ... Her pacing in the final stretch feels rushed, wrapping up loose plot threads, as if she’s unsure about the narrative choices she’s made ... But these are minor quibbles ... The Incendiaries marks the genesis of a dazzling career and showcases a writer who pushes herself courageously into the dark.
RaveMinneapolis Star TribuneUnlike previous books, which focused almost exclusively on the mysteries entwined in our DNA, Zimmer chooses heredity as his subject, which includes nongenetic arcs as well. He commences with vivid historical anecdotes ... For all the rich cultural ground Zimmer covers, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh shines supernova-bright as he teases out the genomic threads of heredity. Mendel’s Law, epigenetic influences, the revolutionary CRISPR molecules — they’re all here, painted in the nuanced tones of a Renaissance master ... Zimmer’s medical investigations unfold with the suspense and flair of a novel ... a lush, enthralling book that transforms the reader with its insights.
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksEach day we pillage habitats of myriad animals and plants—think of all the miles of Brazilian rain forest maimed each year—and yet nature somehow bounces back with plan B, on our own turf. Darwin Comes to Town brims with absorbing, evocative stories, but it’s also cutting-edge science; Schilthuizen, along with only a handful of biologists around the world, is plumbing the genomic mutations and natural selection erupting around us ... Darwin Comes to Town, then, is surprisingly optimistic as it dives deep into the data of HIREC, or Human-Induced Rapid Evolutionary Change. As our world grows increasingly urbanized, as we design \'green\' buildings among our congested downtowns, Schilthuizen’s book makes for essential reading. But don’t expect a dry textbook: he’s written an enthralling account that stands out from the pack of environmental literature.
RaveThe Star TribuneA Welsh native now living in northern England, Davies conjures the frontier ethos and landscape in a spare yet elegant prose. Her imagery and cadences glide beautifully into place ... Davies deftly exposes her characters’ magical thinking, how we’re all too eager to sacrifice our most intimate relationships in pursuit of personal Manifest Destinies. From a distance, West looks like a slim fable; but a closer view reveals a peculiarly American self-delusion, opening up like a vast prairie. Davies is an audaciously talented writer to watch.
PositiveBarnes & Noble\"The book bleeds purple in sections where Eisner’s admiration swells, and he rushes through the poet’s final decade: the 1971 Nobel Prize, a diagnosis of prostate cancer, Neruda’s sad, self-indulgent liaisons with his wife’s niece even as he was dying amid the Pinochet coup. But in meticulously dissecting Neruda’s poems and in mapping out the chronology of a rich if profoundly flawed life, Eisner gives us a definitive work. Neruda: The Poet’s Calling unfolds as a masterful weave of biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, a scrupulous portrait of a genius as vast and contradictory as the continent he loved.\
T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a captivating page-turner ... The book’s narrative is grounded in Marie, but brilliantly cuts back and forth between her story and subsequent sexual assaults in Denver suburbs. There’s a gripping 'you are there' immediacy as crackerjack officers and criminalists pore over scant evidence before finally homing in on their man ... The authors flesh out their through-line with vivid portraits of attacker, victims and police, speaking powerfully to our cultural moment (even as they skirt the thorny issue of due process). Rich in forensic detail, deftly written and paced, A False Report is an instant true-crime classic, taking its rightful place beside Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and Dave Cullen’s Columbine.
R. Marie Griffith
PositiveThe Barnes and Noble ReviewR. Marie Griffith probes the answers to these questions, and so much more, in Moral Combat, that rare academic work that weaves incisive research into a spellbinding tale of American piety and its restless twin, sex ... She comes by her arguments honestly...and spins her story with skill and grit. As with Frances FitzGerald’s magisterial The Evangelicals, Griffith breathes spirit into dry history, fashioning sinew and muscle onto brittle bones ... Moral Combat hews to a simple argument — those who seek plurality and change will wrestle unto death with those invested in tradition and order — making its case with vivid anecdotes ... Griffith’s diagnosis is dark but spot-on: Christianity has ruptured over the political weaponization of gender. Similar to class warfare and the legacy of slavery, reactionary puritanism is an enduring strand in our national DNA.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneAs he nears his 50th birthday, Giffels, a professor of creative writing at the University of Akron and a native of that city, sketches an enigmatic project: the building of his own coffin with his octogenarian father, Thomas ... As father and son embark on the project, Giffels’ longtime best friend, John, an artist, is diagnosed with fatal esophageal cancer; his rapid decline imbues Furnishing Eternity with elegiac power ... The memoir is strongest when it’s focused on Giffels and his father in the workshop, tactile and immediate, as Giffels evokes the lush grains of wood, the tools’ allure, the 'mealy' spray of sawdust. Occasionally the narrative goes slack, marred by gratuitous asides and editorializing... A varnished, carefully crafted box, a spark of life within: Here’s an obvious yet affecting metaphor for the book itself.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMukherjee tracks five characters as they migrate back and forth across the country, their stories gradually braiding together in an assured, beautiful prose. His India is a lush kaleidoscope, but one with sharp edges, mysterious shadows, vanishing crowds — a touch of surrealism pervades A State of Freedom, as in a De Chirico painting … Few writers come at the intersection of class and politics with his subtlety and compassion … Mukherjee’s accomplishment: a ravishing prose style, a lavish mural of an India that is sinister and sublime, characters that sing to us the epic of their cobbled-together country.
Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMoss and Baden deftly highlight the cognitive dissonance at the heart of the evangelicalism, how and why the faithful cherry-pick Scriptures that buttress their own beliefs while dismissing contradictions among the texts themselves ... Bible Nation is a geek’s delight, seasoned with the historical skulduggery and theological debate found in a Dan Brown novel or an Indiana Jones film. Moss and Baden draw on extensive research and interviews with a revolving-door cast of so-called experts and hangers-on, leaving no proverbial stone unturned in their quest to determine the value and validity of the Green collection, the Bible Museum’s underlying purpose. Bible Nation peels away the bark on one of the largest branches of the American family tree, using an academic story to tell a broader one: the evangelicals’ unshakable conviction in their own fantasies and the demonization of anything, or anyone, that dares to challenge them.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"In Caroline Fraser’s magisterial and eloquent biography, Prairie Fires, Wilder, in a willful act of reinvention, sanitized the people and events of her life with the support of her troubled only child, Rose Wilder Lane … From politics to art, Prairie Fires is virtually a double biography of mother and daughter and the work they forged in the crucible of their torments, creating an awesome achievement in children’s literature. Fraser assiduously avoids the sentimentality of earlier books, such as Donald Zochert’s Laura, proving herself a fearless chronicler, adept at skewering sacred cows. She’s given us the definitive biography of a self-taught writer whose pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mythology cloaked the shame of poverty and airbrushed a life perpetually teetering on the brink of doom.\
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewIn the first of two planned volumes spanning the life and career of Alexander ‘Sandy’ Calder, the art critic Jed Perl argues that Calder’s greatness sprang from his canny ability to harness time and movement to explore form. Here Perl is following the lead of John Richardson, doing for Calder what Richardson, in his definitive, multi-book opus, has done for Picasso. Exhaustively researched, exuberantly written, Calder: The Conquest of Time captures in exquisite detail the first half of Calder’s life … Calder: The Conquest of Time is a dense but fulfilling read, enriched by an abundance of anecdotes and Perl’s command of art history, making a persuasive case for Calder as a colossus who blended American self-reliance with French intellectualism, looming (literally) over Europe’s avant-garde.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune\"The King Is Always Above the People, delivers on every level, from the intricate to the inventive, from the subtle to the sublime ... it’s Alarcón’s first-person narrators that give the collection its velocity and vulnerability in the face of love, lust, fear and cruelty ... In dazzling prose, then, The King Is Always Above the People mulls weighty philosophical questions, but through intimate personal dramas that Alarcón deftly teases out to surprise endings, a David Lynch-style menace and surrealism brewing beneath the surface of everyday lives. There’s daring and defiance in these stories, a beauty that will make your soul soar, as Alarcón ascends steadily to the top tier of American writers.\
Richard Lloyd Parry
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...nothing quite compares to the tsunami that struck the northeastern coast of Honshu, the archipelago’s largest island, on the flurry-flecked afternoon of March 11, 2011. In his vivid, suspenseful Ghosts of the Tsunami, British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry opens with his own account of that day in Tokyo...re-creates the tragic events in a cinematic style reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, weaving in and out of the central mystery...a harrowing intimacy here, as he brings us into families senseless with grief, the desire for a justice that eludes them ... Lloyd Parry’s elegant, clear-eyed prose allows him to circle ever closer to the heart of Okawa’s mystery — why virtually all the children there died, unlike any other school in the country. Part detective story, part cultural history, part dirge, Ghosts of the Tsunami probes the scars of loss and the persistence of courage in the face of unspeakable disaster.
Sylvia Plath, ed. by Peter K. Steinberg & Karen V. Kukil
MixedStar Tribune\"Readers may feel suffocated by Plath’s smarmy tone; what more can be said about a biography pored over for decades? But two ghosts haunt Volume I: Aurelia’s sanitized Letters Home (originally published in 1975), which purged allusions to her daughter’s fierce eroticism and emotional volatility, and Ted Hughes’ destruction of Plath’s late journals and ruthless editing of her work. Hence everything and the kitchen sink: The record must show all. And yet a nuanced imagination emerges from ad nauseam ramblings about term papers and tutorials, a rotating cast of boyfriends, as Plath riffs in the caustic vein that would make her famous. She confesses secrets and gossip to friends and pen pals and to Aurelia, always Aurelia.\
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneWe hear Jay rather than see him — Mendelsohn artfully avoids excessive visual details, allowing Jay to define himself through bluster and unexpected moments of tenderness. He’s a marvelous character, anchoring the class discussion and nudging his son to different perspectives, not only about the Greek poem but also their family’s history ... After the class ends, father and son take an Aegean cruise that traces the path of Odysseus. Unfortunately, these scenes feel dashed off, failing to deliver on dramatic expectations. And Mendelsohn’s prose, while beautiful and precise, sporadically lapses into self-conscious flourishes ... Quibbles aside, An Odyssey is a candid, majestic book on the art of teaching and the push-pull relationship between professor and student, especially if the student is one’s father ... With this graceful and searching memoir, we all drink from the cup of knowledge proffered by one of our leading philosopher-writers.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewMargaret Jull Costa’s pitch-perfect translation evokes the textures and urgency of Carrasco’s prose ... Festering wounds, slaughtered goats, the rasp of breath, body stench: all bring us fully into Carrasco’s fictional world. There’s a David Lynchian quality to the characters as well, among them the legless owner of a village commissary and the chain-smoking bailiff, whose lusts and crimes drive him to his own doom. Perhaps Jull Costa’s brightest accomplishment here is her skill in conjuring Carrasco’s mood and pacing, the taut suspense of withholding information that eventually trails back to the doors of the very institution that glues the culture together.
Robert M. Sapolsky
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneSapolsky is that rara avis who’s both eminent scientist and elegant prose stylist ... His new book is his magnum opus, but is also strikingly different from his earlier work, veering sharply toward hard science as it looms myriad strands of his ruminations on human behavior. The familiar, enchanting Sapolsky tropes are here — his warm, witty voice, a sleight of hand that unfolds the mysteries of cognition — but Behave keeps the bar high ... a stunning achievement and an invaluable addition to the canon of scientific literature, certain to kindle debate for years to come.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn her crisply written, deeply informed memoir, The Family Gene, Joselin Linder captures the dread and fatigue that accompanies such an odyssey, how it ripples out to engulf multiple branches of a family ... Linder evokes the twists and turns of Seidman’s yearslong investigation with a wry wit and flair ... Like any memoir, The Family Gene detours into details of the author’s personal life. Linder occasionally indulges herself with vexing romances and beer-soaked misadventures as she roams from city to city after her father’s death. Less might have been more here. But her underlying insight is revelatory ... The Family Gene nails this truth in a clear, honest voice, an invaluable addition to the literature that dramatizes severe illness and its impact.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIn gossamer-fine sentences, Exit West weaves a pulse-raising tale of menace and romance, a parable of our refugee crisis, and a poignant vignette of love won and lost. Hamid’s imagery is gorgeous, his sentences unfurling languidly ... Hamid portrays his characters’ plight with an aching beauty, particularly when they decide to part ... Let the word go forth: Hamid has written his most lyrical and piercing novel yet, destined to be one of this year’s landmark achievements.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review...[an] exquisitely wrought if occasionally static novel ... Kitamura skillfully draws the cast and setting, creating a Hitchcockian mood among the bright colors and bleached sunlight of the Mediterranean ... [Kitamura] takes her place among a set of women authors who explore ambivalence about marriage through their female characters. There’s a classical feel to these explorations, a need to revisit — to reinvent — the old stories.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...a spirited if uneven tale that depicts the triumphs and travails of two brothers, athletic prodigies whose competition threatens to tear them apart ... The elements of Selection Day are strong throughout: a dramatic, readable arc; satire glinting with hints of tragedy; a witty, vibrant voice. Adiga also deftly teases out the strands of India’s fluid society...He wrestles with transitions in places, though, especially in the first half, unwieldy sentences that escaped the eye of his editor. Fortunately, the novel loses its awkwardness as it gains velocity, illuminating a country in the throes of change as well as one boy’s troubled yet beguiling embrace of himself.
Blanche Wiesen Cook
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneEleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3 depicts ER’s emergent public persona with more detail and anecdote than in the previous two volumes, and Cook’s prose reflects that shift, with cool, crisp sentences that avoid her earlier worshipful tone. Even as Cook treads familiar history, her perspective, through ER’s eyes, is vigorous and fresh, the comparisons with our own darkening world subtle and yet potent ... Cook packing ER’s last 17 years into an afterword, a rich period in which the former first lady traveled extensively, advocating for human rights and the critical importance of the United Nations as a hub of international peace and goodwill. Despite this editorial misfire, Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3 achieves the biographer’s lofty goal: to bring ER to life through her own words and deeds.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThis is no mere anthropomorphizing, but rather a deeper, quasi-religious connection to the natural world, a singular passion that shines in each paragraph ... Oliver immerses us in an ever-widening circle, in which a shrub or flower opens onto the cosmos, revealing our meager, masterful place in it. Hold Upstream in your hands, and you hold a miracle of ravishing imagery and startling revelation.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star...a nuanced, intimate portrait of this influential if arrogant figure whose theories transformed the ways we view our cities ... Kanigel is superb at fleshing out Jacobs the woman; he’s less adept at showing how her ideas evolved and were embraced across the world. Eyes on the Street is a personal story, not an intellectual history. The last third of the book is the weakest ... But these are minor quibbles when compared with the dazzling merits of Eyes on the Street. It’s an exhaustively researched, beautifully rendered tale, revealing the human contours of a vigorous, original mind.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneMbue’s fluent prose captures the aspirations and flaws of both couples, trapped on opposing sides of the darkening American dream, each character staring into a chasm below ... The novel occasionally loses momentum as it moves from one domestic squabble to another, bleeding out drama. In this respect, Behold the Dreamers might have worked better as a novella or short story. But Mbue’s meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune...[a] beautifully written account ... Yong — who like Carl Zimmer belongs to the highest tier of science journalists at work today — weaves revelatory anecdotes and cutting-edge reporting into an elegant, illuminating page-turner that deserves a broad readership ... But I Contain Multitudes is hardly pure science. Yong paints a lavish mural teeming with vivid characters.
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune[Mukherjee] renders complex science with a novelist's skill for conjuring real lives, seismic events...Despite the book's elegant craftsmanship, some technical sections will lose lay readers, particularly among the dense thickets of his later chapters, as Mukherjee delves into thrilling recent developments in gene therapy, epigenetics and gene 'editing.' Sometimes the specifics can't be dumbed down for the rest of us, despite a beautiful prose style.
PositiveO: The Oprah Magazine...[an] accomplished debut of longing and redemption. In lush, sinuous sentences, Alvar probes the enduring stain of race, colonialism and especially class, giving voice to all strata of Philippine society.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune[The Vanishing Velazquez] elegantly weaves a narrative that is equal parts criticism, detective story and pure enchantment ... a layered, irresistible tale, one that resonates today.
PositiveMinneapolis Star TribuneIn less gifted hands, these stories would fly apart, casualties of their own centrifugal energy. Oyeyemi remains in perfect control, though, her voice bracingly unique, with What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours a testament to her growing reputation as a contemporary master.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneThe novel’s sections occasionally feel discrete from one another, strung out over multiple perspectives and tense shifts; but Fidelma is a triumph, the thread that binds the narrative together. Beautifully crafted, The Little Red Chairs is a bold indictment of violence, played out in one woman’s life, an intimate canvas that expands beyond its frame, filling rooms.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneYour Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist goes long on theme and language while coming up short on story and characterization, but Sunil Yapa's voice and ambition leap off the page.
MixedMinneapolis Star TribuneAs Schiff moves into the trials and convictions, her narrative slows down, its language tightening beneath a surfeit of detail: Cotton Mather’s self-serving observations, Stoughton’s cruel reversal of Rebecca Nurse’s acquittal.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneJefferson’s method is impressionistic, discursive and often lyrical, revealing the deep divisions of black elites, who have fought silently but stoically against institutionalized white racism even as they’ve remained aloof from lower-income people of color. Negroland lifts the veil from the 'Talented Tenth,' striking at the hypocrisies still curdled beneath our conversations about race and class.