RaveThe Star TribuneWith her sixth novel, Sam, Allegra Goodman set aside the descriptive, lyrical prose style of her prize-winning novels and New Yorker stories to craft a stripped-down, elemental voice out of fidelity to her sturdy young protagonist ... Goodman faithfully creates the perspective of a child doing her best to understand the complicated adult lives around her and to figure out how to satisfy everyone\'s demands in a way that\'s reminiscent of Beverly Cleary\'s classic Ramona Quimby books. None of the nuances of adult dramas are lost on Sam, and Sam\'s instinct to gravitate toward the activities she enjoys cannot be dampened by rules or obstacles. Goodman conveys the protagonist\'s emotions so precisely that the reader feels them, too ... Sam is a novel for anyone who\'s witnessed a kid grow up, felt nostalgic, and yearned to watch the process all over again. Sam captures that unique magic of human development through the story of one steadfast girl.
RaveStar TribuneSearing ... Watkins elucidates the complex fallout from Wayne\'s birth by moving back and forth through time and introducing the perspectives of other family members ... Watkins deftly captures the fresh cadence of January\'s voice ... As Watkins details the violation of the children in this family, shows the reverberating impact these acts have, and makes the reader empathize with each authentic, distinctive character, Perish can be a stomach-churning read. It\'s a raw but necessary book ... Watkins has shaken off the shame of the ultimate taboo and brought it to light through the story of the unforgettable women who bear its burden. This novel will serve as a hand extended through the darkness to a great many of its readers.
Marie Myung-Ok Lee
RaveStar TribuneMarie Myung-Ok Lee\'s sweeping novel, The Evening Hero, opens with a depiction of an eventful day for Dr. Yungman Kwak, who for decades has delivered the babies or Horse\'s Breath, a small town on the Iron Range of Minnesota populated by the descendants of Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish immigrants...Yungman is a good man, but perhaps has never lived up to his bold Korean name —\'Evening Hero\'...With comic flair, Lee follows her endearing, 5-foot-4 protagonist—who economizes by purchasing decommissioned police cars at the sheriff\'s auction and who is so empathetic \'he often became crampy himself when it was time to push\'—as he embarks on a late-in-life awakening about his purpose and the secrets he carries from the Korean War...Lee illustrates how the turmoil of war occasions desperate choices as each person struggles to stay alive, and how those who survive forever endure guilt about their decisions...The Evening Hero is a book about one man\'s steadfast devotion to his job, family and community, even when his dedication is unrequited...With heart, humor and authentic detail, Lee shows how the most outwardly unassuming people can harbor epic histories.
RaveStar TribuneSelin embarks on a quest to move past Ivan, get her groove back and enjoy a hot girl summer, but these classic literary-heroine pursuits will play out in entirely unexpected and hilarious ways, in part because Selin\'s so skilled at noticing flourishes of the bizarre within the mundane ... While love\'s pursuit provides the surface tension of Either/Or, Selin also investigates the nature of conquest and resistance, dominance and submission ... Either/Or is a chronicle of experience that will leave Batuman\'s fans clamoring for an account of Selin\'s junior year.
PositiveThe Star TribuneTell Me How to Be is a book of full of longing and regret, like the R&B ballads Akash labors to create ... In this soulful, moody novel, Patel shows how Akash and Renu suffer from the impossibility of emotional honesty within their Indian immigrant community in the Midwest, its norms enforced by gossip and social snubs. There\'s an inherent forgiveness in the two-narrator structure of this novel, recognizing that people who\'ve made life difficult for others are themselves laboring under the burdens of their own thwarted hopes. Patel charts Akash and Renu\'s quests, separate, but ultimately intertwined, to express the truth, leave bitterness behind, and finally become free.
Elizabeth Gonzalez James
RaveStar Tribune[A] hilarious debut novel ... Gonzalez James is skilled at orchestrating hysterical scenes filled with distinctive character ... As readers may guess, the plot of Mona at Sea involves Mona getting her groove back, but getting there is all the fun.
RaveThe Star TribuneQu writes with clarity and restraint about her Cinderella-terrible childhood ... Qu\'s indelible account of her lonesome childhood should gain her everything she lacked then — confidants, witnesses and fans — who will cheer when she finally reconnects with a long-lost beloved.
RaveHigh Country News... an immersive, comprehensive look at Jones’ life and the lives of other incarcerated firefighters, as well as California’s history of inmate firefighting and its growing reliance on it ... Lowe vividly paints the realities of present-day firefighting. Her precise descriptions of sensory details...and firefighting and inmate lingo make readers feel as if they’re in camp with the women, jumping out of bunks at the 3 a.m. siren and piling into a buggy to race off toward a roaring wildfire ... Breathing Fire doesn’t shy away from complicated truths.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveThe Star TribuneThe plot of The Committed is action-packed with sex, drugs and violence, but those events don\'t characterize the essence of the book. The strength of this novel is the same as that of its predecessor — the probing, sensitive, educated and droll mind of its narrator, who perceives power dynamics that few examine ... With The Committed, Nguyen has once again animated the complexity of a refugee\'s situation and plunged into a thicket of thorny matters of politics, nationality, race and identity, but has done so with characteristic heart, style and good humor that will leave readers both schooled and entertained.
RaveAmerica... gripping ... Engel unwinds [the] family’s story and depicts in distilled, propulsive prose how they ended up scattered across nations. The American dream exerts a magnetic pull in this novel ... Engel writes in third-person limited voice, with the perspective in each chapter attached to one character. This seems an apt choice for this novel about a fractured family whose members never exactly know what the others are experiencing, thinking and feeling ... As Engel’s stylish, heartfelt novel takes as many swift turns as Talia does on the back of a motorcycle she’s talked her way onto, the idea that this family could ever be safely reunited begins to look improbable. But in the end, Engel chooses to bestow on her characters several miracles, perhaps betraying her own glimmer of belief in the tarnished American dream.
PositiveStar TribuneA sense of disconnection and a lack of synchronicity with the rhythms of the day pervade this novel, which opens when 11-year-old Jack wakes in the night to discover his 5-year-old sister Annabel has gone sleepwalking outside, and he decides to track her down ... Nights When Nothing Happened builds from a somnambulant beginning to a dramatic conclusion as the Chengs’ choices, based on what they think will be safest for the kids, actually endanger them. Even in carefully planned, hermetically sealed Plano, there’s no controlling the cascade of events that ensue when a wild child is unleashed in a community that does not understand her family.
RaveThe Star TribuneThe Lying Life of Adults suggests that as people ascend in society, they may gain outward mastery over their emotions, but in doing so they must lie and deny that they have the same strong urges and impulses as less-educated people ... Giovanna’s coming-of-age story is gripping, but what makes this novel indelible is Ferrante’s voice. As in her other novels, she convinces the reader to feel she’s the only person to ever reveal the complete truth. The Lying Life of Adults reads like an intimate confession or urgent confidence, and it will leave the reader as shaken and invigorated as it does its young protagonist.
RaveThe Star TribuneNotes on a Silencing is a horror story, depicting a prep school as a hunting ground. Crawford writes with clarity and rueful authority. She’s detailed and specific, and corroborates all her memories with medical and police reports and other written records. Notes on a Silencing is as much a work of meticulous investigative journalism as it is a memoir; Crawford writes like someone who’s used to not being believed ... This experience was so damaging to her developing brain that for years it was difficult for her to comprehend all its repercussions; at last she has pieced together an intricate story as an artist might fashion a beautiful mosaic out of shards ... In telling her story 30 years later, she must sing alone, but she does so with a strong, clear, unimpeachable voice.
Kawai Strong Washburn
PositiveThe Star TribuneOne of the primary delights of this novel is the singular voice that Washburn creates for each of his narrators. He writes with verve and laces their language with wit and Hawaiicisms ... This novel questions the idea of any savior ... the novel takes somber turns ... Washburn’s reverence and longing for the land and traditions of Hawaii is so strong you might catch homesickness even if you’re a haole (non-Hawaiian) who does strange things like butter your rice and leave your shoes on indoors. This novel graces the reader with the spirit of Hawaii, from its fragrant forests to its cultural traditions, and feels, despite its undercurrent of sadness, like a dose of tropical sun.
RaveAmerica... searing ... elegantly constructed ... Olafsson’s crisp, understated prose and the novel’s chilly Icelandic setting belie the burning tension that blazes under the surface. The Sacrament is a novel about secrets, lies and power. It illustrates how predators choose uniquely vulnerable victims who cannot speak up without great risk, such as the son of a widow who relies on the accused priest for support. The horrors of abuse remain offstage, barely spoken of, yet the entire book is haunted by them. It is sometimes difficult to ascertain when the Iceland chapters are set, but Olafsson’s design suggests the cyclical, ongoing nature of abuse and how its effects ripple out in time and warp everything they touch ... In the devastating conclusion to The Sacrament, as the powerful conspire to conceal truth, readers just might find themselves rooting for vigilante sin.
RaveThe Star Tribune... propulsive ... Cummins is a skilled and empathic chronicler of trauma and its aftermath ... Cummins is so attuned to the emotions of the traumatized that she evokes these feelings in the reader ... Cummins creates a convincing array of characters ... an unsettling and immersive story, fueled by the elemental love of a mother for her son that causes her to flee everything she’s known in her desperate quest for survival.
PositiveThe Star TribuneThe premise is fantastical, but Wilson’s portrayal of these fire children conveys more emotional truth about life with a difficult or neurodivergent kid than any of those parenting guides ... Wilson also skewers the way the wealthy pay their way out of mistakes, keeping themselves insulated from consequences. In this funny and affecting novel, Wilson has introduced one outlandish element that exposes more truth than strict realism could
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune... eight soulful stories ... These stories turn on secrets, betrayal and accidents, but never feel melodramatic; traumas shake even ordinary lives ... Danticat’s characters give, they love, they agree to requests it would be wiser to refuse: They are relentlessly all-in. By drawing the reader deep into her characters’ psyches, Danticat makes us complicit in their bad moves ... We’re all terminal cases, Danticat’s lush stories suggest, but that doesn’t mean that any of us are unworthy of love.
RaveThe Star TribuneDennis-Benn’s vivid, sensory writing plunges the reader into the experience of an undocumented immigrant in the wilds of New York, teeming with unreliable buses, rude citizens and mattresses of unknown provenance. Dennis-Benn also evokes Patsy’s home island through every sense, capturing its cadence with her fresh, phonetic rendering of Jamaican patois and displaying its hibiscus flowers, macka (thorn) bushes, cow foot soup and private school girls in pristine white uniforms ... The immigrant novel has a rich tradition in American literature ... Patsy adds to that lineage with its engrossing portrait of a complicated woman who struggles against crushing societal forces in her quest—not to sacrifice her life for future generations—but to finally unfurl her true self.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning News\"Kingsolver\'s prose is as deft as ever, and her characters are authentic and engaging, whether they are upstart teens in the 1880\'s or Dumpster-diving millennials.\
PositiveThe Dallas Morning News\"[The orphaned children plotline] is enough calamity to fuel a whole book, but it\'s only the beginning as The Wildlands clips along with its eventful plot, detailed in sensitive prose that ponders nature, adaptation, survival and the mysteries of family ties ... Geni creates arresting tableaus of nature juxtaposed with the trappings of modern life as a wild spree sets horses, dogs, ostriches and polar bears loose across Texas, New Mexico and California.\
Imogen Hermes Gowar
RaveThe Dallas Morning News\"... fascinating ... This novel\'s world is as richly detailed as the dresses that Angelica dolls herself up in, its events at once fantastic and believable, making for a world-class yarn.\
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsThe eponymous hero of Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan\'s Booker Prize shortlisted novel recalls Charles Dickens\' Pip in his pluck, intelligence and wild reversals of fortune ... Edugyan conveys with startling immediacy the horrors slavery visits on the body, as well as the shackles it places upon the mind. She invites the reader to consider how many scientists\' contributions may have been written out of the record.
RaveThe Dallas Morning News\"Bloom isn\'t trying to shock readers by dredging up this love affair from a bygone century — instead, she\'s aiming to bring the forgotten life of a remarkable woman back into the light ... In a few stark, startling scenes, Bloom illustrates the brutality and loneliness of Hick\'s childhood. What\'s most striking about White Houses, however, is its depiction of a fervent, forbidden love that blossoms between two intelligent women who are not young and beautiful ... Bloom has always worked best up close, near her characters\' heads and hearts and sheets, and White Houses brings the reader inside a love affair for the ages.\
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsNg narrates in a poised, old-fashioned omniscient voice that peers into the heads of all the characters while also providing a bird's-eye view of Shaker Heights, the wealthy suburb of Cleveland they inhabit. Ng's characters are authentic and complex, but it's her confident narration that will invite readers to settle in for the ride — a storyteller who knows what she's doing is at the wheel … Ng shows how the presence of an artist who has eschewed the stock measures of American success — a big house, a steady job, plenty of money, children who are popular and successful in academics and athletics — threatens people who have bought into this system, even at the cost of damaging their kids.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsColorless Tsukuru Tazaki alights in some mysterious places but doesn’t settle there. It’s more straightforward than Murakami’s most recent works of fiction...is replete with emotionally frank, philosophical discussions. It’s a gentle ride, without the depictions of violence that sometimes occur in Murakami, and any traumas are recounted in retrospect...the plot of the novel is essentially Tsukuru’s investigation into his own groundless sadness, which turns out to be not so inexplicable after all ... Murakami doesn’t tie up every loose end in this quiet, reflective novel, but he does enough to satisfy.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning News...[a] funny, insightful new novel ... Some people don't have time to ponder what it means to be 'all grown up,' as they're too busy driving their kids to basketball practice or their aging parents to medical appointments. Andrea Bern has staked out her territory in the shifting sands of time and from that stable perch can examine this question, and decide, finally, when and if it's time to jump into the maelstrom of other people's lives.
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsOpening Lincoln in the Bardo is like alighting suddenly on an unfamiliar moonscape, where disembodied voices are already deep in conversation. The only thing you can do is listen keenly for a while, until you begin to make out the contours of the situation. Each of Saunders' sentences are exquisitely composed, swiftly bringing you into the hearts of his strange, fascinating characters ... Lincoln in the Bardo is weird, disorienting, funny and incredibly moving. Scenes of Lincoln contemplating Willie's death brought me to tears. The rhythms Saunders has crafted for Lincoln's grief, working solely in dialogue and racing internal thoughts, echo the most heartbreaking scenes in literature — Cordelia forgiving her wayward father Lear, for one ... You get the sense that the intensity of Lincoln's love for his son was equivalent to the intensity with which he loved this nation. It's a hard and grief-inviting task to love such a fallible thing — a human being, or a nation made up of fallible humans.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsA Separation incorporates some tropes of a mystery novel — including a murder, a femme fatale, and an amateur sleuth hero — but it also relentlessly eschews the conventions of that genre. The only thing more mysterious than an unsolved murder, A Separation suggests, are the inner workings of a marriage ... The narrator bears a literary kinship to Meursault from Camus' The Stranger. Although she never commits a crime like Meursault, her reactions to events that would incite most people to raging emotions are similarly detached ... Kitamura writes with quiet power, and although the loose plot ends might not satisfy some mystery buffs, her astute psychological analyses will give all readers much to chew on.
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsIt isn't necessary to read Outline to appreciate Transit — there isn't much to know in terms of plot — but many who pick up Transit first will likely find themselves seeking out Outline for another hit of Cusk's bracing wisdom, clever sentences and droll humor ... Plot-driven novels dominate the current American book scene — even literary fiction is rarely allowed to drift and meander as it once did, if the author hopes to find a publisher. Transit is a refreshing reminder that there's another way of working.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsAlthough politics tinge these stories, Collins' primary mission is to focus with white-hot intensity on the emotional lives of her characters ... Collins' stories are frank and elegant time capsules from the past that will speak with urgency and beauty to readers of today.
RaveThe Dallas Morning News...[a] remarkable new novel ... A reader might grow restless in some of the Aimee sections, as the narrator does the pop star's bidding but rarely exerts any will of her own, but stay patient. Smith gradually reveals her grand design. Smith is far too skilled and entertaining a storyteller to deliver lectures, but race and class linger subtly underneath all the events unfolding in Swing Time ... This rich, compelling novel will convince anyone who witnesses it of Smith's enormous talent.
RaveThe Dallas Morning News...this novel brims with uncomfortable love ... The Mothers is filled with hard, beautiful truths and is so remarkably poised that it's hard to believe its author is only 26 ... Bennett gracefully segues back and forth from the conjoined voices of the church ladies to an omniscient that brings the reader close to the perspectives of this novel's other rich, nuanced characters ... Bennett's evocation of the way her characters are haunted by their families' pasts, her depiction of unbridled, damaging passion, and her masterful orchestration of different voices are techniques reminiscent of the great Toni Morrison.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning News...a gracefully constructed, engrossing read ... [Commonwealth's] main accomplishment is to demonstrate how families can be defined by random affinity, proximity and choice as much as by genetic relation.
Jonathan Safran Foer
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsAlthough Foer focuses on the adults' problems in this book, he portrays the three Bloch children and their interactions with their elders brilliantly...The kids are never just props, but always distinct people. Here I Am contains reams of funny, insightful dialogue, with each person pressing his or her case, at cross purposes to the others ... Here I Am is a stunner of a family saga.
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesAusubel writes heartfelt, quirky fiction with winsome prose ... Ausubel alternates chapters about the kids’ adventures and the parents’ quixotic journeys with those that comb back through Fern and Edgar’s childhoods, courtship, and marriage. These flashbacks elucidate the peculiar beliefs of the rich ... My writing teacher, Lucia Berlin, used to admire how Anton Chekhov would treat a princess and a maid with the same lack of judgment in his writing. Berlin thought it was the princess that more writers tended to flub, chastising her instead of conveying her humanity. Ausubel succeeds on this score — she does not scorn her princes and princesses. The princesses, in fact, fare best: Fern and Cricket especially endear through their apt, universal observations on motherhood and childhood.
RaveThe Dallas Morning News...Barkskins just might be her masterpiece ... [Proulx's] gifts prove uniquely suited to the epic Barkskins. Proulx captures characters in a few quick brushstrokes, and makes you care about them with a single, apt image or action ... Toward the end of Barkskins, as Proulx speeds from 1886 to 2013, there are a few places where characters rush past, introduced and dead within the course of a few sentences. But this feels like the spirit bead of American Indian artists, including one mistake as an act of humility that ends up showing off the genius of the whole. While Proulx’s Wyoming stories bore a bleak outlook, the ending of Barkskins veers toward hope, improbable hope.
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsMany novels circle around an exceptional incident or unspeakable tragedy, but what sets Erdrich’s writing apart is the way her characters become real people — not just stoic or hysterical actors in a tragedy ... The way Erdrich orchestrates the many parts of this story — the history, culture and Ojibwe beliefs coming to bear on the tragic situation affecting two families — is, as always, dazzling. Erdrich herself is a healer, a storyteller who can examine a collection of individuals, scarred and fragmented by the circumstances of their lives, and piece together a resonant wholeness.
Claire Vaye Watkins
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsGold Fame Citrus is unique because of Watkins’ bracing language, her gift for creating a world entire, from its landscape to its pop culture, and her masterful control of tone: Luz’s numb outlook and the narrator’s wry, clinical vision of the West offer a convincing worldview ... Watkins is a literary geologist, able to describe all the West’s layers of earth and history, and tell us a compelling story about what they mean.
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsChapter by chapter, Innocents and Others is endearing, engaging and clever, but it never shows off. In fact I was dazzled by how this seemingly low-key tale about movie lovers hanging out, falling in and out of love, and playing around with their hobbies and their art, turned out to be so moving and brilliant. Innocents and Others is a work of art about making art that matters.
RaveThe Dallas Morning NewsFor a Little While gathers 25 of Bass’ strongest stories, including seven new tales, into a collection that should win Bass new fans while inducing his admirers to re-evaluate what they thought they knew about this versatile and sensitive writer whose fiction thrusts relentlessly fallible humans against the astounding and confounding forces of nature.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsMartel’s discursive, philosophical style is an old-fashioned approach to novel writing. Contemporary novels are usually built out of scenes rather than long, probing conversations or musings, and the characters are propelled forward through clear motivations and connections. Some readers will find The High Mountains of Portugal lacking in these ways, but I found it refreshing, surprising and filled with sparkling moments of humor and insight.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsYapa finesses the tricky work of alternately conveying panoramic crowd views and focusing on individuals that reminded me of Don DeLillo’s technique. The key difference is that in DeLillo’s fiction, crowds are often cold entities, and in Yapa’s world they are warm, the sum of thousands of beating hearts.
MixedThe Dallas Morning NewsOccasionally I felt the connections Hunt was making — between religion, the afterlife, New York history, meteorites and other topics — were slightly forced...The emotional connections between Hunt’s key characters are authentic, as is the unusual world she creates at Love of Christ!, and her writing is lively and funny.
PositiveThe Dallas Morning NewsBut mostly, The Clasp excels in its one-liners and goofy situations, as Crosley proves that her wit would be fresh enough to enliven even yesterday’s leftovers.